20 October, 2020
09 May, 2021
16 Ege Demir (TOFA)
David Hein's Champions League Home Grown
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Tofas talent Demir goes from Nigeria to unknown Turkey

To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if the roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.

BURSA (Turkey) - Tofas Bursa might not have made it to the Basketball Champions League Final 8. But the club left a lasting impression in its first season in the competition for its exciting style of play, including relying on Turkish players - and youngsters at that. In fact, Ege Demir was not far off from making history.

Demir played 56 seconds in Tofas' first BCL game of the season and picked up 1 rebound and 1 blocked shot against Keravnos.

"I was really nervous," admitted Demir, who was all of just 16 years and 80 days old when he took the court in Cyprus on November 3, 2020.

With that appearance, Demir became the second-youngest player in the history of the BCL, behind only Lefteris Mantzoukas of Promitheas Patras, who was 15 years and 94 days old when he debuted on October 10, 2018.

"I think it's a great achievement, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity," Demir said.

The 6ft 9in (2.07m) power forward  played the return game against Keravnos on Gameday 9 as well and tallied his first points.

"It was really great. After scoring the points the bench was shouting and yelling. The feeling was really awesome," said Demir, who played 1:37 minutes in the game.

He also got in 2:51 minutes against JDA Dijon and picked up a block in the Gameday 7 contest. His final appearance was in Gameday 5 of the Play-Offs against Pinar Karsiyaka, collecting 1 rebound and 1 steal in 4:19 minutes.

"It was a great opportunity and experience for me. There were good and bad moments, but all in all it was a great competition," Demir said.

Discovered at Ujiri camp

Demir's basketball adventure started four and a half years ago in the state of Kogi in northern Nigeria. Born as David Ezekiel Itunge, he originally played football until someone invited a family friend to come watch a basketball game nearby.

"He took me with him to the game, and I didn't like basketball because I didn't understand the game. But after the game I was given some nice shoes and a bag and from then now I started to go to the basketball gym. And later I liked the game," Demir recalled.

In 2017, he attended a basketball youth camp near his home and was then selected among other players to participate in a larger camp run by Giants of Africa, the organization founded by Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri.

"The camp was really great. We were taught some basketball fundamentals and played some games. It was awesome," remembered Demir.

It was at the Ujiri camp that Demir was discovered. According to the youngster, Tofas contacted one of his coaches, Godwin Owingi.

"They talked and asked me if I would like to play basketball and go to school in Turkey. I said yes and that's how I came to Tofas," he said.

What is Turkey?

That sounds quite casual now years later when you consider that you could have told Demir back then he was going to Mars and he might not have realized the difference.

"I didn't even know there was a country called Turkey," he laughed. "I didn't research it all. I was just happy I was going to play basketball and going to school in Europe. I could be a better player, so I was just happy."

When asked about his first impressions about Turkey, he said: "I was really nervous and a little bit scared - but happy."

Demir said he has really grown to like the people in Turkey, who are "so nice and friendly". But he still misses some things from back in Nigeria, where he has returned to twice since his arrival.

"I miss most my family, my friends and home-cooked meals," said Demir, who really misses the pounded yam and vegetable or Egusi soup from back home.

Coming back to the current season, Demir has had another highlight. Tofas was not originally scheduled to play at the famed Adidas Next Generation Tournament. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the ANGT events could not be carried out in Munich. Germany and was moved to Istanbul - and Tofas received an invitation to play in the U18 competition. And that gave Demir a chance to prove himself against the best on the continent.

In three games against Real Madrid, Zalgiris Kaunas and Fenerbahce Istanbul, Demir averaged 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.3 blocks - despite playing two years younger than the rest of the competition.

"I learned that I have so much work to do, and that there are really so many good basketball players out there. If I want to succeed I have to work really hard," said Demir, who finished the competition ranked first in index rating at 24.0, third in scoring and second in rebounds and blocks.

Demir has predominantly played this season for Tofas' youth team in the Turkish U19 league. And the big man has been nearly as impressive as at the ANGT event, averaging 10.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.3 blocks.

"I don't have any challenges in the league," he said with a high level of confidence. "I play as hard as I can, but I know I have to work hard and improve myself."

Trusting the process

Demir did play four games in the Basketball Champions League, but those are the only appearances he has had with Tofas' professional team this season. That being despite the fact that the youngster has practiced with the top team.

"I do practice with the professionals more often, and the A team players have really been helping me," he said. "They are teaching me some drills and footwork."

Demir's belief in himself and his future can be seen looking at the top of his Instagram account. His profile includes the hashtag #Trusttheprocess.

"That means a lot to me. I believe that I will make it to the NBA some day, and it is a process. So I trust the process and work as hard as I can," he said.

Demir hopes to make it to the NBA in the next three years. But in the more immediate future, he wants to lead Tofas to the U19 Turkish title.

Two of his teammates who would help him in that effort are Batin Tuna and Bora Satir - both youngsters who also played in the Basketball Champions League this season, one which Tofas used to leave a mark on the competition.

David Hein

David Hein

Walk into the media tribune of any major basketball event and there's a good chance you will come across David Hein. Having covered dozens of FIBA events, including numerous women's and youth events, there are few players Dave doesn't know about, and few players who don't know him. His sporting curiosity means he is always looking to unearth something new and a little bit special. David Hein's Champions League Home Grown is a weekly column digging out the freshest basketball talent in the competition and assessing what the basketball landscape will look like a couple of years down the line.