|17 December 2012|
|Defence is a major part of Ufuk Sarica's coaching philosophy |
By Dimitris Kontos
Pinar Karsiyaka topped EuroChallenge Regular Season Group A with a 5-1 record and have every reason to head into the Last 16, which tips off next month, full of confidence.
Head coach Ufuk Sarica is careful not to put the cart before the horse at this early stage but at the same time he does not deny the thought of his team going all the way and challenging for the title has crossed his mind.
"I think it's too early to talk about the championship; but on the other hand, why not," he told FIBAEurope.com
"To win a European cup would make us very successful and proud, of course.
"I know that feeling from before and I would like to feel it as a coach as well."
Sarica speaks from experience, and more specifically from the point of view of a player who has lifted a European trophy.
The formidable partnership he formed with Petar Naumoski in the Efes Pilsen (now Anadolu Efes) backcourt in the 1995/96 season was a determining factor in the most successful year in the history of the Turkish powerhouse.
Efes reached the Korac Cup Finals and prevailed over Dejan Bodiroga's Olimpia Milano, 146-145 on aggregate in the two-leg final, to conquer Turkey's first European title at club level.
In April 2012, Besiktas Milangaz replicated that success by winning the EuroChallenge at the Final Four in Hungary.
The fans of Karsiyaka, or any other Turkish club, have not had the opportunity to celebrate such an achievement.
"We don't have this kind of success in the history of the club," Sarica said.
"This is definitely very important to all of us.
"[Izmir] is a great basketball city; Karşıyaka fans are amazing, they know basketball very well."
IT STARTS ON THE DEFENSIVE END
One does not need to watch hours and hours of Karsiyaka's games or have advanced knowledge of mathematics to guess what coach Sarica places more emphasis on in practice.
Karsiyaka are the best defensive team in the EuroChallenge, giving up only 62.5 points to their opponents per contest.
They have the fourth best defence in the Turkish BEKO Ligi and most probably would be at the top there too were it not for a one-off extravaganza, the 95-94 overtime loss at Tofas Bursa earlier in the season.
"Of course defence is the priority in my philosophy as a coach," Sarica acknowledges.
"But also at the beginning of the season I preferred that kind of players [with defensive skills] for my team.
"I made them believe that defence is the most important part.
"In modern basketball, defence on its own is not enough.
"You must play well on both sides [of the floor]. But if you get stops on defence you always have the advantage."
|Sarica last suited up for Turkey at EuroBasket 1999|
TURKISH LEAGUE - AND NATIONAL TEAM
Sarica's players have to suffocate opponents with their defence twice a week, but so far the team maintains the same level of intensity on both the European and domestic fronts.
Karsiyaka are tied with Banvit and Anadolu Efes in third place in the Turkish league standings, with an 8-2 record.
"To play both in Europe and BEKO [Ligi] is very tiring of course," Sarica acknowledged.
"But we have to get ready all the time physically, mentally and technically.
"In the beginning of the season my target was to not lose any games at home, and so far it's going well."
Karsiyaka have beaten Euroleague sides Besiktas and Fenerbahce, as well as league leaders Galatasaray at home.
"We're not afraid of any team, and beating all the leading teams here [in Izmir] is the proof of that.
"By winning games, our faith and confidence is growing day by day."
Despite his busy schedule, Sarica does not lose sight of what goes on at the Turkish national team, although he is reluctant to venture into predictions about EuroBasket 2013.
Turkey were drawn into First Round Group D and will go up against Russia, Greece, Italy, Finland and Sweden.
"[The EuroBasket in] Slovenia will be a hard championship," Sarica said.
"We have very good players in the Turkish team.
"But we don't know which players will be part of the final roster yet.
As a player, Sarica became an international at the age of 16 and after joining the senior team he suited up for Turkey at three consecutive EuroBasket tournaments, from 1995 through 1999.
It makes one wonder if he's ever thought about how it would be to relive the experience, this time as a coach.
"Of course leading the national team would be an honour for me," he said.
"And I would very much like to have this honour."