Cakir targets Turkey podium: ''I have big dreams about what we can do''
ISTANBUL (Turkey) - We're yet to reach the halfway mark of 2023 and it's already been a landmark year for Olcay Cakir, but could it be about to get even more momentous for the Turkish guard?
Back in April, the playmaker proudly lifted the EuroLeague Women trophy as captain of Istanbul juggernauts Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding after their agonizing and emotional journey to their first title finally came to an end.
Once the dust had settled not only on that historic piece of silverware, but also another Turkish Championship success, Cakir revealed that she had chosen to play outside of her homeland for the first time in her career.
"I HAVE BIG DREAMS ABOUT WHAT WE CAN DO AT THIS FIBA WOMEN'S EUROBASKET." - Olcay Cakir
Signing for Perfumerias Avenida in Spain, the 29-year-old will join a rare club of leading Turkish national team players who have made the jump to other top leagues.
But before she can even think too much about life in Salamanca, the focus is on taking Turkey back in an upwards direction on the international stage, having endured a lean time of late.
FIBA Women's EuroBasket finalists in 2011, bronze medalists in 2013 and having competed in the Olympics during 2012 and 2016, as well as the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in 2014 and 2018, things have changed relatively quickly.
There's been no global tournament during the past five years and consecutive finishes of a worrying 14th at the last two editions of the FIBA Women's EuroBasket had the alarm bells ringing.
The mitigation was that with the loss of legends like Nevriye Yilmaz and Birsel Vardarli, there was always going to be a transitional period. However, this has been exacerbated and extended perhaps due to a lack of court time in past years by younger Turkish players who needed to pick up the baton.
"For our national team, we have had a change of generation which happened a few years ago," confirmed Cakir.
"Then after that, there were a lot of younger players who were trying to play for their club teams in Turkey and I don't think we were quite ready for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket.
"But I think in this last year and now we have shown we are getting better and better with every day."
She added: "I have big dreams about what we can do at this FIBA Women's EuroBasket. I believe we can do much better than in these past years when we weren't doing good things and were having some really hard times."
Turkey impressed during the Qualifiers by going 5-1 against co-hosts Slovenia, a tricky rejuvenated Poland and minnows Albania. Last making the Quarter-Finals in 2017, their results heading into this upcoming edition has heightened belief that they can become a challenger once again.
Initially standing in their way in Ljubljana will be Group D rivals Slovakia, Hungary and reigning champions, Serbia.
"Our big goal is to get a medal at this FIBA Women's EuroBasket and we also want to be in a position so that it is possible to go on and qualify for the 2024 Olympics in the future," declared Cakir.
"But there are no easy games at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket because they are all good teams at the tournament and yet I was happy with our group.
"I was starting to think and analyse what we could do in these games in my head. I think they will all be hard games, but I really believe we can do some good things."
For Turkey to do well, they need leadership and composure for those difficult moments. That is where Cakir is likely to continue making the biggest impact.
She confirmed: "My first goal is always to be a good teammate and to lead my team as a point guard and to use the fact that I have been playing now for a long time to give my experience to the team.
"I am trying to make my team play as best as they can as I am not a player who wants to always score. I like to help my team and that is what I like most about playing point guard."
A significant chunk of Turkey's hopes will undeniably hinge on the availability of the naturalized powerhouse Teaira McCowan. Yet whether she joins the squad or not, Cakir will have an important job to do as she looks to utilize those attributes that enticed Perfumerias Avenida into making her an offer.
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Whatever the coming weeks may hold, the more medium term future will be nothing less than fascinating for Cakir. Having spent 13 years or so in the Turkish league - mostly with Fenerbahce, except for a couple of campaigns - it was a significant wrench to leave.
"I became a part of Fenerbahce when I was a little 12-year-old girl and my biggest dream was to be a European champion as the captain," Cakir explained to the fans.
"Now, to make another dream of mine come true, I entrust my valuable striped jersey which I have been wearing for the past 15 years, to my teammates.
"I know and feel that you will always be by my side, while I do my best to represent my country and Fenerbahce in the best way possible in Europe.
"I would like to thank everyone who supported me unconditionally up until now. My heart will always be with you, goodbye until we meet again," she concluded.
So perhaps a bit like the national team using some precious momentum to potentially start an upward curve again at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket, the time just feels right for Cakir to spread her wings and truly make it a year to remember.