By Paul Nilsen
|It took a while for people to get used to Nevriye Yilmaz in a Galatasaray jersey after years of wearing Fener colours|
The Turkish legend made the controversial move across the Bosphorus from arch rivals Fenerbahce around 18 months ago, but injury forced her to sit out the entire 2012-13 EuroLeague Women season.
Galatasaray still managed to force their way to the Final Eight in Ekaterinburg, but a turbulent season ended in disappointment as they failed to win a single game and sorely missed the talent and experience of their frontcourt heavyweight.
Yilmaz was sat in frustration on the sidelines, but also trying to focus on at least getting healthy for EuroBasket Women 2013, where she eventually returned in style.
"It was a very difficult year, but I always somehow had hope that I would be able to play again," recalled Yilmaz.
"I mean, I wasn't distraught. I believed that I would overcome [the injury] and be able to return to the court.
"My close friends and family gave a lot of psychological support to me.
"The physiotherapists I worked with, my trainer with the club, the club doctor - they were all great sources of support. And a little of their motivation took root.
"I persevered, and I believed that I would be able to play again.
"But I wouldn't wish a lengthy injury on anyone, or any injury for that matter, because it's really bad," continued the 33-year-old.
"It also makes you a more mature person and it really changes your perspective on both life and sport.
"I was away from it all for a year, but at least I was able to have a good performance with the national team.
"The way I look at it, even if I could not play [professionally] last year, I had a bronze medal finish at EuroBasket Women."
Yilmaz is now back on the EuroLeague Women beat, having been through the slightly bizarre experience of making a hugely belated debut in the competition for Galatasaray well over a year after signing with the club.
|Nevriye Yilmaz is the cornerstone of the successful run of the Turkish national team in recent years|
In the immediate aftermath following their Final Eight failure at the end of last season, there were fears Galatasaray might endure a fall from grace and women's basketball might be given a back seat within the organisation.
However, things have rarely looked more positive and the results have been outstanding so far, with the team top of the table in the TKBL and also in Group C of EuroLeague Women - a source of pride and satisfaction for Yilmaz.
"Eeverything is going really well this season and I hope it continues," she said with a smile.
"We started this season with one of our most important players in Sancho Lyttle who was injured and she's a very important and very key player for our team.
"We worked really hard this summer and still our practices are tougher than our matches. Every practice is like a game, we even joke about it among ourselves.
"Of course we realise that our coach, to prepare us, is making things hard for us in all kinds of ways. We continue to work because we know it will be good for us.
"The most important thing is that we will have success at the end of the season, because nobody remembers what happened at the beginning or in the middle of the season.
"We want to finish in the championship and at the EuroLeague Women Final Eight at a high level, so that we can achieve what we have worked for."
Yilmaz recently revealed the FIBA World Championship for Women next year on home soil is also likely to be her last major tournament in a Turkish national team vest.
Podium success would certainly be a fitting finale for one of Europe's most respected and outstanding ballers of her generation - although for now, and taking into account the testing events of the last 18 months, simply staying fit remains the main priority.
"My play in the FIBA World Championship set for September 2014 will be even better," proclaimed Yilmaz.
"But, I hope that myself and all my team-mates will simply finish the season injury-free and that everyone will be able to take their place on the team there."
Yilmaz and Galatasaray resume their pursuit of a place at the 2014 Final Eight of EuroLeague Women in Ekaterinburg next week.
However, they have even more pressing matters on their minds right now as they fight it out for the Turkish Cup which will be decided this weekend.