20 November, 2017
26 February, 2019
4 Dogus Balbay (TUR)
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Sarica: "It was important for our future to see our young players stepping up"

ISTANBUL (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Turkish basketball is in the clouds and for good reason.

Everything went according to plan in the World Cup Qualifiers for a country that is effectively charting a new course in the game. New players are getting a chance to put on the national team shirt and fans are getting an opportunity to see their side in meaningful games on a regular basis.

Just as some of the nation's emerging talents proved their worth during FIBA EuroBasket 2017 in Istanbul, others showed they deserve to wear the national team shirt by helping Turkey win at home over Latvia (85-73) and then on the road at Ukraine (67-60).

In their home game on November 24 against the Latvians, which was played in Bursa, the crowd was amazing.

"I want to thank the Bursa fans," coach Ufuk Sarica said. "We played to a full house. Whenever we play to a full house, it's always an energy booster in our home team.

"The Turkish national teams throughout history have always performed better to full houses so we're grateful to the Bursa fans."

 Sarica saluted the Bursa crowd for giving Turkey a lift against Latvia

Several thousand spectators, indeed, poured into the Tofas Nilufer Spor Salonu and watched the likes of Goksenin Koksal and Dogus Balbay play the sort of defense that is quickly becoming a hallmark of Sarica's Turkey teams.

Koksal is about as unheralded as they come. A 26-year-old shooting guard, he made the side at the last couple of FIBA EuroBaskets but hardly played.

When he entered the game in the first quarter against Latvia, Turkey were behind. They lacked intensity, but he brought it in abundance. He was so effective that Sarica played him more than 25 minutes.

The player that hadn't scored a single point at the EuroBasket poured in 11 against Latvia and also came up with a couple of momentum changing steals that helped propel Turkey to a 85-73 win.

"Koksal and Dogus performed really well on defense," Sarica said. "Their energy helped spark the comeback in the first half."

Turkey played in front of a huge crowd again in Kiev, Ukraine, too, one that was officially 6,400, yet it was a hostile one.

Still, it represented an opportunity for players champing at the bit to show they can help their country.

The unheralded player that took advantage of the chance to shine this time was Tolga Gecim, a 21-year-old small forward. Gecim finished with a team high 15 points and also came up with two of Turkey's 8 steals.

Gecim, 21, rose to the occasion for Turkey in Ukraine

"Young players such as Tolga, who was with me before, really affected the game and helped us win," Sarica said. "That was really important for our future, to see young players like this stepping up."

So Turkey, who knew they would rely on a lot of inexperienced players in the World Cup Qualifiers, have much to be excited about. The devoted fans of Bursa got to see big-time basketball and youngsters gained valuable experience. Just two players over 30, Baris Ermis (32) and Semih Erden (31) played against Latvia.

Ermis, who was very good in both games, was the only 30+ player in the game at Ukraine.

"We played two games in a very short space of time and are very happy with the results that we got," Sarica said. "I'm proud of the effort they put on the court."