Fede Federiko: From Finland to Forbes Avenue
Sisu is a Finnish word that loosely translates as intestinal fortitude—guts, in plain English—but the connotation means much more.
Standing tall in the face of overwhelming odds, persevering despite almost no chance of success. For a country that rests in the shadow of the Arctic Circle, where the sun barely climbs above the horizon in winter, for a culture that persisted despite hundreds of years of colonization by the Swedish and Russian empires, sisu embodies the Finnish way of life.
For a team projected to finish 14th in the ACC before the season started, a team that seemed dead in the water after early-season losses to West Virginia, Michigan and VCU, a team that now stands as the second-best team in the conference with less than a month to go, sisu is a perfect metaphor for Pitt Basketball’s season. They weren’t supposed to be here.
Panthers’ center Fede Federiko grew up in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. As such, he knows all about sisu.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Federiko moved to Helsinki at a young age, and praised the country for his diverse upbringing.
“Finland is amazing. It’s super fun. It’s a lot of people from different countries too,” Federiko said. “I grew up with people, friends from Somalia, from Spain, Italy, Russia, Sweden, so a lot of different cultures.”
Raised in that melting-pot environment, Federiko speaks four languages: Finnish, Swedish, English and Arabic. It’s also where he got his start as an athlete, favoring soccer at first. As he grew to stand 6-foot-11, however, his mom took quick action.
“I was a soccer guy because my dad played soccer. It was automatic for me, playing soccer in school with my friends,” Federiko said. “Then I started growing in height and my mom said ‘yeah, you’re playing basketball.’”
From Finland to Forbes Avenue
Keen on drawing college offers, Federiko moved to Washington, Pa. for his senior year of high school, playing at First Love Christian Academy.
It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020-2021 academic year. Federiko said that because of the restrictions, he didn’t get a chance to experience life in America to the fullest—both in basketball, and school in general.
“It was different, but it was fun…it was the Covid year too, so I didn’t really get to experience everything fully,” Federiko said. “I had amazing friends. I had my boy from Finland, Mustapha Amzil, who plays for Dayton right now. He was there [at FLCA] with me, so I wasn’t there alone.”
Federiko displayed that outlook time and again, acknowledging the difficulties he’d faced while focusing on the bright side in the same breath.
“Because it was the Covid year I didn’t really pick up any offers.” I was like damn, I have to go to JUCO,’” Federiko said. “It hurt and helped me at the same time. It put me into this situation, so I’m blessed.”
Conflicting Styles of Play
One of the things that Federiko said he struggled with as he grew accustomed to the United States was the different style of basketball from how he played in Finland.
“It’s [basketball in Finland] not like the NBA, it’s more of like a college basketball type. More organized,” Federiko said. “When I came here for the prep year it was just one-on-one’s. I’m a team player, so one-on-ones were mixing me up.”
Federiko’s selfless basketball didn’t curry favor with collegiate coaches—the weirdness of the Covid year didn’t help either—so he had to build his resume with junior college playing time.
“What Did I Do?!”
Federiko said that he was reluctant to go the JUCO route at first, even considering going pro back in Europe for a time.
“I talked to some coaches and came across Northern Oklahoma’s coach. At first, I didn’t even want to go there…I probably [would’ve] stayed home in Finland: the Euroleague, playing in different countries,” Federiko said. “When I flew to Oklahoma we drove for hours in the middle of nowhere. I was like ‘damn, what did I do? What did I do?! But it ended up being good.”
Federiko earned an NJCAA Honorable Mention All-America selection as he helped Northern Oklahoma to a league-best 21-8 regular season record. He parlayed his performance into a Division I offer from West Virginia.
Federiko said that a visit to Pitt’s facilities spurred him to flip from the Mountaineers.
“Coach JC, he contacted me…I liked the vibe that he gave me,” Federiko said. “I came here to visit with Blake [Hinson], met John [Hugley] and Nike [Sibande]. The vibe was just great. Talking with the players and the connection, we want to be better, go and win games. It was just like ‘I want to be here.’”
Perhaps most importantly, the Panthers offered the brand of team basketball that Federiko hadn’t been able to find yet in the states. Each Panther knows their role and is happy to execute it, a far cry from recent Pitt teams: the chemistry is apparent to anyone who’s watched the Panthers this season, especially after the obvious lack of it during Jeff Capel’s first four years as head man.
Everything has fallen into place for the Panthers this season, and especially for Federiko, who wasn’t even supposed to start this season.
“I wasn’t expecting to be a starter. I came here with the mentality of working hard, doing everything right,” Federiko said. “Right now I’m grateful that I’m getting all this experience, playing with guards like Nelly [Cummings], JB [Jamarius Burton], Nike, it’s amazing.”
Federiko plays like a classic big man: he doesn’t light up the stat sheet, averaging 5.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, but his contribution to the team goes far beyond the box score. He sets screens and guards the rim. Most importantly, Pitt is 10-3 since he became the full-time starter, a ‘glue guy’ in their miraculous turnaround.
Federiko said that sisu isn’t nearly as popular in Finland as in the Finnish-American community— it’s mainly invoked by the Finnish military today. However, he agreed that it’s a fitting metaphor for both his season individually and the Panthers’ as a whole.
Federiko also offered another multicultural inspiration for Pitt’s season. This one comes from fellow big men Jorge and Guillermo Diaz-Graham, who hail from Spain’s Canary Islands.
“The twins, every time we go to a huddle we say ‘familia,’” Federiko said. “I feel like we just connect, everything just connects perfectly.
great story …. and it is one that will only get better. I see Fede developing into a great player for Pitt. He will look and play a different game next season. H2P !
Yes, great story Griffin! Thanks for sharing this. Fede has become one of my favorite players this year. He reminds me of former great PITT players that did whatever it took to win. Fede works hard, goes after rebounds, gets loose balls, blocks, screens, passes. And he continues to get better!
Filled a BIG HOLE in the lineup