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NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen’s Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – Having made history by taking a silver medal at EuroBasket Women last year, stepping out at a first Olympic Games this summer in London, and having gained a first ever youth tournament podium finish merely 48 hours ago, it’s now finally time for Turkish women’s basketball to stop making history.
Everything about the way the Turkish Basketball Federation is investing in women’s basketball shows they mean business. Indeed their interest at both national team and club level is fantastic but ultimately, it will only be when people stop talking about these historic landmarks that Turkey can finally be confident it has delivered sustainable ‘success’.
These new chapters are for sure beautiful moments to be celebrated, and I have been the first to say ‘tebrikler’ and to offer my congratulations. But, all of this is simply the launch-pad. If Turkey wishes to establish itself as a genuine power in the women’s game, they need to not only qualify for every major tournament for the next few years, they need to do it for generations to come and always push hard to win medals on a consistent basis.
After losing their quarter-final against Russia in London, the challenge for Turkey in the short term is to remain focused for EuroBasket Women next summer in France. Because, after the high of ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ and the exciting anticpation of hosting the 2014 FIBA World Championship Women, they are susceptible (even sub-conciously) of losing momentum and focus.
This is why Turkey reaching the last eight in France and I would even say the semi-finals is, an absolute must for me.
I was therefore quite delighted with the response of head coach Ceyhun Yildizoglu when he wholeheartedly agreed with my suggestion that it was time to stop being history-makers. He didn’t duck the issue whatsoever - his answer was an impressively forthright endorsement of the notion. It was refreshing.
Despite being arguably under more pressure to deliver than many other head coaches around, he didn’t try to dilute expectations for him – or for any of his potential predecessors. He insisted Turkey has the players coming through the youth ranks to continue progress in the medium to long-term and to establish Turkey exactly where it wants to be – as a women’s basketball powerhouse.
So far at least, his confidence is reasonably well placed after scooping a first ever youth medal via bronze at the U20 European Championship Women in Debrecen – a feat accomplished thanks mainly to the 1993 and 1994 generation and not the now outgoing 1992 born players.
Elsewhere, Turkey has had mixed fortunes at youth level. The joy of qualifying for and competing at the U17 World Championship Women in Amsterdam was tempered by failing to win a game.
They also missed the cut for the U19 World Championship Women in Lithuania next year after being dealt the unfortunate card of unexpectedly facing the mighty Spain in the fifth place game in Bucharest at the U18 European Championship Women earlier this month.
Meanwhile there was a disappointing 13th place finish at the U16 European Championship Women at the very start of the summer.
Of course the crucial aspect is that Turkey merely needs find four, five or six top level players coming through in the medium term that can play at the highest level. So far, there are a few candidates who will follow on from the likes of Tugce Canitez who made the final roster for London having made an impressive contribution at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Of the current crop of young players at youth level, Pelin Bilgic, Merve Aydin and Olcay Cakir are promising guards, Ozge Kavurmacioglu needs to keep working hard in the small forward spot while I always like the look of swingman Ayse Cora too. In the paint, the main hope is probably Hulya Coklar along with Emir Emirtekin.
Throw in the likes of Ozge Yavas who finished her career at youth level last year and will now compete in EuroLeague Women with Galatasaray during coming months and there is the potential for the bold confidence of Yildizoglu to be authenticated.
I am genuinely excited for Turkey and have really enjoyed their rise to prominence which has been richly deserved for the senior players like Nevriye Yilmaz, Birsel Vardarli, Tugba Palazoglu and Esmeral Tuncluer.
The next 5-10 years will be exciting, interesting and a huge challenge to see who can and will take over the reins.
I am most interested to see how the Turkish Basketball Federation eventually pens the successor to its’ current 2012-2016 Strategic Plan – a wonderfully impressive document which underlines why Turkey is on the rise.
They are rolling in the right direction but in the grand scheme of things, becoming a bona-fide elite level women’s basketball nation will mean delivering consistently leading up to, and far beyond the next Olympic Games in Rio.

Yes, these emerging young talents have a hugely important task ahead of them.

Paul Nilsen


FIBA’s columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

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