Chicago’s rebuild centers around new acquisitions Lauri Markkanen, left, Kris Dunn and Zach Levine.

Photos by G-Jun Yam / Associated Press

HELSINKI, FINLAND — It didn’t take long for the entire state of Arizona to be aware of and concerned for U.S. Sen. John McCain’s health. The news of his malignant brain tumor travelled fast all around the world.

All the way in Helsinki, Finland however, Lauri Markkanen was focused on other things.

Markkanen said last week that he was caught completely off-guard by the news.

The budding basketball star and 80-year-old senator have a connection. McCain, a well-known Arizona Wildcats fan, helped Markkanen get his visa when there was a problem with a technicality. McCain joked that he would take all the credit for Markkanen’s college success. 

Markkanen was stellar as a freshman, became a lottery pick and is now the undisputed young leader of the Finnish national team. As soon as he has proved his value in the European championship tournament, he will be heading back to the United States to play his first season in the NBA.

“He’s a pleasant man," Markkanen said of McCain. "I hope all goes well. You never wish something like this on anyone." 

Markkanen has been the center of attention in his home country since he returned from Las Vegas after playing three games in the NBA Summer League. The number seven draft pick is preparing for next season with the Chicago Bulls who acquired him in the infamous trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Right now, Markkanen has his hands full with Eurobasket 2017. He’s starting his four-week training with Susijengi; the tournament starts with a game against France in Helsinki on Aug. 31.