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''We're not afraid of anybody'' - Turkey's Cedi Osman
ANKARA (Turkey) - Cedi Osman and the rest of Turkey want to send a strong message - that they are legitimate contenders at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China.
The '12 Giant Men' are riding high on their recent tune-up victories over European rivals France and African side Tunisia. Osman headlined the Turkish charge against France last week, scoring 19 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Coach Ufuk Sarica's players notched the wins even without key players Scottie Wilbekin and Ersan Ilyasova.
"WE JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE IN EACH OTHER AND KEEP PLAYING HARD NO MATTER WHAT."
"I think we're playing well," Osman said after they beat France. "This was an important game for us, and it was against France, one of the best teams and one of the favorites to win the World Cup. It was really important to show this kind of performance. To go out there and give our best was really important for the team, and we're happy about this win. Of course, this win doesn't really mean anything yet, so we have to keep fighting."
Osman is expected to be one of Turkey's main cogs in only his second World Cup appearance. The 24-year-old saw action in the 2014 edition, averaging 2.3 points as Turkey finished at 8th place. This time around, amidst a lot of greenhorns, Osman stands to be one of the seasoned veterans of the national squad.
"Obviously, we don't have a lot of experience, especially at the World Cup," he remarked. "There are only two players who have really played - Ersan Ilyasova and Semih Erden - and I played in 2014 but not too much. That's why I think this is going to be a really good experience for everybody, so we just have to keep playing well."
Turkey are bunched up in Group E with the Czech Republic, Team USA and Japan, and they will play all their group games in the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai. Osman believes the path laid out in front of them won't be easy, but he also knows they have the materials needed to go far in the tournament.
"I think we're in a tough group," he said. "We don't know much about Japan, but we talked to the coaches a bit and know they're a really dangerous team. Obviously, the United States aren't coming with their best team, but it's a very deep roster and still have a lot of good NBA players. It's tough, but it's not impossible to beat them. We have to play our best game, try to win and try to get first in the group. I believe that we have a good team for that."
Despite Osman's presence and other high-level talents, Turkey are not among the main favorites for the World Cup crown, but the all-around forward is still hoping to make some noise at the World Cup. There is also an addition target in China, with the Olympic berth also on the line.
"First, we have to finish top two in our group and then the same in the second group, which is going to be really tough," Osman shared. "But I believe we have that mentality and we can be in the Olympics."
He will certainly take on much of the scoring load in China, and though he's not the oldest player on the roster, he's certainly one of the most accomplished, having played with LeBron James in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform after becoming a three-time All-Star in Turkey's Basketbol Super Ligi.
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"I feel really comfortable, especially with my experience playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers," he said. "That helped a lot. It helped me grow my basketball, so I believe in myself on both sides of the court. I've been working hard since May. We had a few months off after the season, so I rested a little bit and then started working on my game because I know that this will be a really important summer for me."
One of the main driving forces behind Osman's desire to make a lot of noise in China is trying to help Turkey reclaim their place among the elite teams on the international stage. He fondly remembers their second-place finish in the 2010 World Cup, and he wants Turkey to return to those glory days.
"USA had a really strong squad in 2010 with KD, D-Rose and all those great players, but Turkey still fought till the end," he recalled. "They fought for 40 minutes and finished second, which was huge for us. We're younger than that team and don't have that much experience, but we just have to believe in each other and keep playing hard no matter what. We're not afraid of anybody."