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In Preldzic, Turkey have a leader on court and cheerleader off it
BILBAO (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Emir Preldzic played 34 minutes in Turkey's Group C opener against New Zealand and scored 14 points, hitting two of his four three-point attempts as part of a 5-of-9 shooting display in the 76-73 win.
But his role as the "leader" of the team went beyond that.
For the six-something minutes that he was not on court, the 26-year-old Fenerbahce versatile player was as active in leading his team, by egging the fans on to cheer every move as Turkey went about reviving their fortunes, fighting back a 12-point deficit on two occasions.
"This game was very important for the team. We were trying everything we could to win. We were terrible in the first half. I don't say we were nervous, that can't be an excuse. But we were completely off-track," he said.
"But at some point in time we made a mental switch to give everything we had to fight. The fans came into play in a big way there.
"With Fenerbahce, I have the experience of how crowd support can help. That's why I was trying to get everything going," said Preldzic, who in 2008 played for Slovenia in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament before moving to the Turkish national team with FIBA's approval under International Regulation Chapter I.22.
Turkey had a scorching run in this very event four years ago going all the way to the Final where they lost to the USA.
"This is a group of much younger players. So we need time to achieve something as big as that," Preldzic said.
"We won't go down without a fight. You saw that happening today. But then somewhere down the line we need to accept the reality."
With a sizable crowd behind Turkey at the Bizkaia Arena, the stage is set for when the Turks will face Finland on Wednesday.
The Finnish fans, numbering around 8,000 by the latest estimate, already made the USA feel as though they were playing in Helsinki with their voracious and vociferous support.
"It will be a great game for fans of both teams," said Preldzic.
"And that too in a game not involving the home team or the USA, the atmosphere is bound to be huge. But it ends there. Atmosphere alone can't win us games. We have to do what we is needed on the court."