I love women’s basketball in Turkey because they have the most competitive league in the world along with the WNBA and I believe this is fact that can be backed up – it’s not just an opinion.
I have also loved the emergence of the national team over the last decade or so, with Turkey having racked up a maiden Olympic appearance [which they made into two at Rio last year following on from London 2012] and historic first ever EuroBasket Women medals in 2011 and 2013.
They should be a nation on the rise, but alarm bells are ringing in my mind as to the long-term future of women’s basketball in Turkey.
I have already written in my FIBA Women’s Basketball Worldwide column about the delicate balance of having too many foreigners dominating the KBSL [domestic league].
Well, it cuts much deeper than this.
What I see when I watch Turkey at the very young youth levels is worrying. Their players have technical ability and a decent understanding of the game due to some solid and passionate coaching, but when each U16 European Championship Women comes around, there is always [without fail] one common theme.
The players are never athletic or fit enough in comparison to most other teams.
It stands out to me so much. I am 100% convinced that the biggest challenge to the Turkish Basketball Federation right at this moment and for many years to come, is changing the mentality of girls and clubs.
The players need to work harder and get into a better shape. Period.
I am not expert on Turkish culture and like I say, I balance this with reiterating how much of a fan I am of many people associated with women’s basketball in Turkey, the league and the senior national team.
I can’t sugar coat it though and so they must take it as some tough love!
Unless girls are driven to get into the gym more, to get into shape and really work extra hard on their physicality and fitness, they will always be a step behind so many nations.
This also cuts into why Turkish players are barely worth looking at when it comes to NCAA recruitment. Athleticism is normally so high up on the requirements when it comes to College basketball. You really must be such a good player technically for any athletic or cardio deficiencies to be overlooked. [And by the way, as you will see by my tweet below, I DO support Turkish rising stars a lot].
— Paul Nilsen (@basketmedia365) April 14, 2017
Of course, it is absolutely the case that there is no real track record of Turkish players going Stateside, the likes of [the ironically athletic] Tugce Canitez being one of the exceptions. For most Turkish prospects, the pathway is straight into the pro-game and the culture is not to look across the Pond.
But I really do feel that the current situation is not sustainable. Turkish players are falling into a potentially depressing and familiar pattern of impressing at youth level, not working physically hard enough, still signing with clubs and then not getting the minutes they need at the highest level.
That could have a hard-hitting impact for the national team in the future and I think it is happening right here, right now.
Having more players show their mental fortitude by not believing they have made it at a young age, but working overtime to get into the best physical shape and having that #domore ethos, Turkish players might just be a small, but viable source of recruitment for NCAA colleges.
The politics, language and so forth might put a lot of people off, but also from a player’s perspective, I think Turkey would be a much stronger nation and have a better future if some of their players were to follow different pathways.
The fundamental point though is that whether the prospects of tomorrow never consider the NCAA, or the NCAA never considers them, they can’t just keep turning up to international youth tournaments like they have in the past.
The mentality of Turkish players at a young age must change. They need assistance to help them do that, but this is one of the biggest challenges facing a women’s basketball nation I care for very much.
It will be interesting to see if anyone else has noticed the lack of athleticism and fitness and if anyone will now [or is already] trying to address it.
I will be at Bourges, France for this year’s U16 Women’s European Championship and I will be monitoring the athleticism and physical standard of Turkish players very closely indeed.
Work to be done and I hope some people in Turkish basketball can at least respect this view – even if they don’t agree with it.
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