Step by Step - a closer look at Turk Telekom
ANKARA (Turkey) - A quick glance at each team's roster before the season started was all it took for Turk Telekom to peak the interest of most European basketball observers. The team from Ankara possesses an intriguing combination of size, talent, experience, and fresh ambition. From up-and-coming domestic players and imports at the start of their European adventure, to seasoned veterans that know what it takes, this Turk Telekom team looks very well balanced.
We spoke to Head Coach Burak Goren about putting together a team believes it can compete but still wants to take things step-by-step.
This is the club’s first season in the Basketball Champions League, can you describe what it means to the fans and the club to represent Turkey and Ankara in European competition?
"Turk Telekom is a historical club that means a great deal for sport in Ankara. Competing at the highest level domestically and in European leagues are the traditions of the club. The success of Turk Telekom is also a locomotive for basketball in Ankara. When I started as Head Coach 3 years ago, the club had many unlucky situations and was in the second division in Turkey. We were promoted to the top division in Turkey as champions in my first season and quickly prepared the club for higher aims. The support we receive from the fans is unbelievable, they love basketball so much and it’s important to them that we chase these higher aims."
Moustapha Fall throws one down in front of Turk Telekom's raucous fans
What were your goals to start the BCL season, and have they changed now that the season has started?
"The BCL is becoming more and more valuable with many strong teams competing. Playing strong teams motivates us. To start the season, our primary goal was to qualify for the Play-Offs. Our group is very tough and there are very well-coached teams with a lot of talent. The teams that make it out of this group can all go on to be successful in the next round. Personally I believe we need to take it step-by-step. Our goal is still to reach the Round of 16 and after that, we will have time to think again."
Turk Telekom have almost secured target number 1 already. After a tough battle with Lietkabelis on Gameday 10, Coach Goren's men are tied for 1st in Group A. They currently hold the same win record as the likes of AEK and Hapoel Jerusalem in their debut season and only Iberostar Tenerife and ERA Nymburk have won more games at this stage of the season.
Success in Europe doesn't come without the challenge of maintaining rhythm domestically. Last season Turk Telekom finished sixth in the Turkish BSL, which was no mean feat considering it was their first season back in Turkey's elite. This season the fight is on to maintain that form domestically, with Coach Goren's men sitting one place outside the Play-Off places.
Can you describe your process as a coach when preparing your team to play in two competitions?
"Playing twice a week means we really need to push our limits but we actually, really enjoy this path. Traveling is the most difficult part, we need to use connecting flights out of Ankara and typically spend 13-14 hours on the road. This hurts us physically and mentally. Our training intensity and preparation for opponents are also effected but we have learned as a team to overcome it. If you have a vision as a club and goals, you need to be able to overcome these situations."
One thing that can certainly help a team overcome the tough grind of a grueling travel schedule is experience. With the likes of T.J. Campbell and Muhammed Baygul on the roster, Coach Goren has a leader that understands the habits and discipline to manage the physical and mental challenge of playing twice a week, and also a player that has experience of winning in a continental competition. The rotation for this Turk Telekom team sees nine players enjoy the lions share of minutes but none-the-less it's a well-balanced rotation with clear roles and each player bringing something different.
What was your process when recruiting this roster? Do you have a style of play, then recruit a roster to fit? Or recruit the players that fit a profile, then build a style of play to fit them?
Any coach working at this level has their own philosophy and I have been building my staff for a long time. We (Turk Telekom) also have our own basketball philosophy which we believe is successful for today’s modern basketball. It’s the coach’s job to integrate the player into the system and philosophy. It requires a lot of hard work and patience. The intent and sacrifice of the player and the coach are important.
How would you describe the club’s philosophy on and off the court?
"Turk Telekom is a big, historical club that values and respects its players and personnel. It’s also a club that supports the Turkish youth. We try to acquire young players that can play for Turk Telekom for many years."
And, how would you describe your own philosophy?
"My philosophy is very simple; helping each other, sacrifice and hard work on defense and sharing on offense."
With respect to sharing the ball, Coach Goren must have seen his philosophy really start to take hold on Gameday 10 vs Lietkabelis. Turk Telekom had 27 assists on 32 field goals, with Johnson, Baygul and Fall all recording more than 5 assists each. The play in the clip below is almost exactly what sharing the ball looks like. After a post entry pass, all 5 players touch the ball as the extra pass becomes a second and third extra pass.
The consistent theme in a lot of the plays that best exemplify Turk Telekom's ability to share the ball this season is the ball entering the post to create an advantage. I wrote earlier in the season about BCL season 4 being the Year of the big man. Even from those early stages of the season, it was clear that the gravitational pull of Moustapha Fall was going to be the foundation of this team. Indeed, Coach Goren was very clear that the team was built around the giant French international.
"Because of our experience from previous years, we had the idea from the beginning to play with a big guy that protects the basket. Moustapha Fall was always our first target."
After what could be described as a down year last season, Fall is making the decision to build around him look like an outstanding decision. 11.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and - perhaps most importantly - a team-high 3.5 assists is exactly the kind of production that Coach Goren will have had in mind. The fact that Fall is shooting 70% from 2-point range, mostly from dunks, hook shots and putbacks is forcing teams to double and try to force the ball back out of the paint. the problem with this tactic is that Fall is proving to be an elite decision-maker when passing out the post. In the video below you see that Lietkabelis first double-teamed Fall from the high side after a post entry, then in the second clip, the double comes from the baseline side. The outcome is the same; Fall punishes the double with a great decision and - especially in the second clip - a great pass.
With the club's Philosophy of recruiting young Turkish players that can be built around for several years, it was clear that the rotation at the center position also needed to include a home-grown player. In tandem, Fall and Guven provide Turk Telekom with a young, hungry duo of bigs that offer something different to each other.
"Egemen Guven is an elite player in his age group but hadn’t had the right opportunity to express his talents totally. At first glance, it looked like we had 2 big guys that had bad seasons the year before but both have already come a long way due to their work ethic and character."
The balance in Coach Goren's frontcourt doesn't end there. In Kyle Wiltjer and Metin Turen, Turk Telekom have two players that fit the description of a stretch four but both go about their business in very different ways.
Kyle Wiltjer is a very flexible four who is very suitable for modern basketball, he is very talented. Metin Turen is already a national team player that is still relatively young with a lot of potential for development. He is adding new skills to his repertoire this season. He has been especially focused on the glass and trying to be more effective in the paint.
Kyle Wiltjer was one of those names that jumped off the page on that preseason roster scan. The Canadian is in his third season in Europe and is clearly enjoying himself. After a solid season in the ACB last season, Wiltjer started the season with a combination of experience and hunger that sat in the perfect sweet spot for a breakout season. 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds on 50.4% shooting overall, including 40% from behind the arc, is almost exactly what a breakout season looks like. Offensively Wiltjer has all the tools required to dovetail perfectly with Moustapha Fall.
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R.J. Hunter, Nick Johnson, and T.J. Campbell is also a perimeter unit with a good balance of experience and potential. Can you talk us through the reasons behind recruiting these players?
"TJ Campbell and I have been working together for 4 years and we know each other’s expectations. He’s a top-level player in terms of work ethic and character, plays both ends of the floor and makes a maximum contribution to playing team basketball.
Campbell's numbers include 9.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists and although maybe don't jump out of the water but Campbell has consistently been able to do what his team needs. One week he's scoring 15 vs Holon then 26 vs Dinamo Sassari, or another week he is dishing 5 assists vs Manresa, Campbell is consistently thinking about what the team needs first.
The play in the clip below is a great example of Campbell's team-first mentality. In transition, Campbell is matched up against Zeljko Sakic (not known for shot-blocking) and has a good look for a floater or runner, instead, he opts to "Nash Dribble" along the baseline, distorting the defensive matchups in the process, and finds a red hot R.J Hunter for another 3-ball, causing Lietkabelis to call a timeout. This is a great example of choosing the best shot for the team over his own scoring. Side note to this, pay attention to the speed of R.J Hunter's release on that shot. You will not see a quicker release anywhere in Europe.
Talking of R.J. Hunter, Coach Goren was also keen to speak about finding balance and his philosophy of sharing the ball among all of his multi-talented backcourt players.
"RJ is a big-time talent but this is his first European experience. He has a broad offensive repertoire and as he gets used to European basketball he can be a top-level European player. Nick Johnson is another great team player and a very good professional. He has big responsibilities on both ends for our team. To start the season we had some adaptation problems with respect to playing together and it took some time to establish our team game but we have good communication and try very hard to understand each other."
The last but far from least player in the rotation to discuss was Muhammed Baygul. At 27, The Turkish combo guard is already the most experienced player on the roster with respect to continental competition. With numbers of 10.5 points, 4 rebounds and 3.4 assists, Baygul is having a career season and was a player that Coach Goren knew well.
"I signed Muhammed 5 years ago when I was gaining my first Head Coaching experience and gave him the most minutes of his career. He has won the Eurocup with Darussafaka and played Euroleague with Pinar Karsiyaka since then. I believe in his potential and the things he’s capable of doing. That’s why he was one of the moves we made this summer and has an important role on this team."
Up next for Turk Telekom is the visit of Baxi Manresa. The Spaniards hold a 5 point lead in the head to head after winning in Northern Spain on Gameday 4.
With their home fans behind them, Coach Goren and Turk Telekom have to be confident in their chances of overcoming that margin. Should they do so, it would be another huge step toward their goal of securing a place in the Round of 16.