By Ben Collins, PA International
At the beginning of the season, Fenerbahce might have been content just to make the play-offs of the FIBA Europe League but as Marc Salyers testifies, all that changed once Istanbul was made hosts of the Final Four.
Fener are making their debut in the FIBA Europe League but have shown no shortcomings, winning Group A before overcoming Hapoel Tel Aviv and Besiktas in the eighth and quarter-finals, respectively, to earn a place in the competition finale.
||The fans in Turkey are on the edge of crazy when it comes to sport
And their chances of claiming an unexpected victory were handed a substantial boost when it was announced that BC Kyiv, their semi-finals opponents, were unable to host the Final Four as their home arena needs to be prepared to stage the Eurovision song contest in May.
With the Final Four, to be played April 27 and 28, therefore moved to Istanbul's Abdi Ipecki arena, Fener now have a crucial advantage as this season's competition reaches a climax.
Fener's power forward Salyers is expecting a frenzied response from the Istanbul public and is hoping that home support inspires them to the ultimate crown, as what happened with reigning champions UNICS Kazan.
"The fans in Turkey are on the edge of crazy when it comes to sport," he told PA International.
"We've got a good following here at Fenerbahce, mainly because of the soccer, and have already sold 11,000 tickets for the Final Four.
"They (UNICS) did it last year, so it shows how big an advantage it is, and hopefully we can repeat that."
Chicago-born Salyers, 26 , who had a spell in France last season with Pau-Orthez, is relishing the prospect not only because he will be playing in his first-ever Final Four, but also because he and the rest of the Fener set-up are confident they can make the most of this opportunity.
"At Pau-Orthez we won the French championship but it's not the same as a Final Four," he added. "In a Final Four, anything can happen, especially when it's just one game and not a three-game series.
"We're expecting a lot because when it was moved to Istanbul, all our goals changed, and we're aiming to at least make it to the final."
Salyers has every right to be confident for the semi as Fener got the better of Kyiv when they met in the group phase, beating them twice to top the group, although their second encounter was a close-run thing.
Fener could then come up against unbeaten Dynamo St Petersburg in the final, although BC Khimki may spring an upset and reach the final.
"We are the better team (compared to Kyiv)," said Salyers. "They have a much bigger budget and, on paper, they have better players, but I believe that we are the better team, so I'm confident we will win it.
"I know them pretty well, especially the Americans. LaMarr Greer played for UNICS when they won it last year so knows what it takes to when it. And Marcelo Nicola spent six or seven years with Benetton so has plenty of experience.
"I don't know much about Khimki but St Petersburg are going to be a tough team to beat," he added.
"I know the coach (David Blatt) pretty well - he's a great coach and he always has great players, like (Jon) Stefansson, Kelly McCarty, Ed Cota.
"But if you want to win it you have to beat the best."
Salyers has certainly been enjoying life in Istanbul since re-joining Fener at the start of the season, particularly playing with veteran Bosnia-Herzegovina guard Damir Mrsic.
|Salyers in All-Star Day action |
"I was here for the start of last season and then I went to Pau-Orthez so I knew what to expect from the club and my team-mates," Salyers added.
"The people have been good to me, and I'm with a good club so everything's going good for me personally.
"It's a huge city and you can find just about whatever you want to do. I like to just have a look around, there's all walks of life here. There's a great nightlife or you can just have a walk along the seaside.
"Mrsic is incredible," he added. "He's one of the best shooters I've ever seen. He could shoot out of a phone booth, he doesn't need any room.
"He's getting better with age. He's been in Russia the last of couple of years and that's made him a better player.
"On a good day he gets 40 points and on a bad day he gets 25 points, he's that good, but that could be the difference between winning and losing. He's definitely one to watch out for."
Salyers recently went head-to-head with his team-mate at FIBA Europe League's All Star Day, where Mrsic narrowly lost out to Kyiv's Marcelo Nicola in the final of the three-point contest.
And although the American, who featured on the Rest of the World team, thoroughly enjoyed the experience, he admits he is getting tired of showing up his colleagues.
"It was my first time in Cyprus," added Salyers. "It was great weather, and it was good to see another place and to catch up with a lot of friends.
"It was a good experience playing against Mrsic. I've got to know his little weaknesses and passed them along to the other players and we managed to beat them.
"The other team (Europe) was also coached by my own coach at Fenerbahce,Aydin Ors, and it was the same for the Turkish All-Star game too. Another of my team-mates (Omer Onan) was against me in both games, but I won that one too, so it's 2-0 to me," joked Salyers.
Mrsic accompanied Salyers in the Turkish All-Star game, while fellow Fener players Trevor Harvey and Chris Booker were also in the triumphant import team.
No doubt they'll be keen to ensure Salyers is still enjoying life come the end of the month.