Hedo Turkoglu Comes Up Huge at Home
Turkoglu doesn't like that. Might it have anything to do with the pressure Turkey's big star has to be carrying for his nation?
No. the Phoenix Suns forward insists the pressure isn't too intense. He doesn't like it for another reason.
"Actually, I hate those pictures," Turkoglu said. "Because wherever I go, people try to look at me as a giant. So I don't like those. I'm a regular guy."
Turkoglu was speaking to a small group of reporters in the bowels of the Sinan Erdem Dome long after Turkey's dramatic 83-82 semifinal win Saturday over Serbia. Turkoglu hasn't given a lot of interviews during the Worlds, but how he could he not resist talking about the greatest day in Turkish basketball history?
The win, sealed when guard Kerem Tunceri made a layup with half of a second remaining, advanced Turkey into Sunday's gold medal game against Team USA. Prior to these Worlds, Turkey had never finished better than the sixth in the event and had never even qualified until 2002.
"It should be fun," said Turkoglu, who played for Orlando in a 4-1 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers in June 2009. "Like playing in the NBA Finals."
But then Turkoglu thought for few seconds. Maybe this is more intense than the NBA Finals.
"It's different," he said. "It's more feelings (for one's country). It's different. Your whole team is playing for your country. This is different emotionally and a different feeling. We'll try to do our best. It's going to be a tough game. We know that.
"(The Americans) play great. They have great players. (Turkey will) try to have a close game, and we'll see what happens at the end."
Turkoglu got off to a slow start in the tournament but has come on for Turkey, which, like Team USA, is 8-0. He scored a team-high 16 points Saturday, and was the first option when Turkey inbounded with 4.3 seconds left while trailing 82-81.
The ball went to Turkoglu on the left side and he fumbled it. He called it "kind of half lose, half pass" of the ball to Tunceri, who stormed in for the dramatic game-winning shot.
"I tried to take a really good shot or a good pass that's going to help the team win," Turkoglu, averaging 12.3 points and shooting 38.9 percent in the Worlds, said of Turkey's final possession. "I've been in those situations before in my life, and I just think that, hopefully, I'll get ball and try something and make it happen, and all Turkey will go crazy."
Turkey sure did go crazy. But how crazy might those in the country get if the nation can upset the mighty Americans?
"I seriously don't know," Turkogulu said when asked about basketball strides that could be made if Turkey wins gold. "So far we have a lot of impact, from what I hear from the people around. They've been great supporters. And even though we have (at least) a silver medal, I don't know what happens if we have gold. Throughout the whole year, we'll see how our basketball will improve. So all we have to do is wait (until Sunday) and see."
Soccer long has been the top sport in the country, and that doesn't figure to change any time soon. But most observers believe basketball is the second-most popular sport, something that started after Turkoglu became the NBA's first Turkish player in 2000 and the nation finished a surprising second in the 2001 European Championships in Istanbul.
Now, an entire nation awaits to see what will unfold Sunday.
"I know it's going to be crazy because we play in the finals," Turkoglu said of the home crowd at the gold medal game. "I think after (Sunday's) game, if you try to talk to anybody, they will be out of voice. That's what we want. And, hopefully, we will try to reward them with the gold medal."
If the Turks do win gold, Turkoglu might have to get used to even more giant photos of him in Istanbul.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson