|Ayberk Olmaz playing for Fenerbahce (photo: Ahmet Hopyar)|
By David Hein
Turkish basketball was on an absolute high last summer when their U18 national team captured their first title at that level. The U18 European Championship comes to Turkey in 2014 and Ayberk Olmaz and his teammates face the pressure of satisfying the demanding home fans.
The 18-year-old center will be one of the keys in Konya when Turkey attempt to repeat their U18 crown from 24 July-3 August.
"It's a great opportunity to play in our home country, and we want to win it there," said Olmaz, who has risen up talent observers' boards since appearing at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament (AST) in April and the Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) this month.
When asked if Turkey will face extra pressure of playing at home and winning last year, Olmaz said: "For sure, but it's also a positive effect. Playing in front of the home fans will be perfect for us."
The Turks have drawn the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece in Group C.
"We have played against those teams before in U16s. We beat them, so it will be easier for us. But we have to play hard," said Olmaz.
The Edirne native, who doesn't turn 18 until June 8, has already made great strides in his game.
Playing for Turkish giants Fenerbahce, Olmaz appeared in one Euroleague game this season as well as three Turkish League games.
"It was a great atmosphere in that (Euroleague) game with the fans and supporters. I was so excited about being on the court. It was a great experience," said Olmaz, who collected two points and two rebounds in the three TBL games and grabbed one rebound in his two minutes of Euroleague action.
Playing with the Fenerbahce senior team also means working out under the tutelage of legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic.
"He's the only reason I have these kinds of chances with this age. So I really appreciate it," said Olmaz.
The 2.06m big man collected 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in helping Turkey finish fourth at the AST in Mannheim, Germany in April. Olmaz then played for Fenerbahce at the under-18 NIJT. Fenerbahce lost all three games in the tournament at the Euroleague Final Four despite Olmaz averaging 9.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
|Despite his young age, Olmaz has already had the honour of playing against Oklahoma City Thunder (photo: Ahmet Hopyar)|
"The top priority for me is my strength and conditioning, and then I would like to be a better shooter. I also want to work on my fundamentals in my position," said the big man.
Olmaz also got the chance to play against the Oklahoma City Thunder with Fenerbahce at the NBA Global Games last October, missing a dunk on his only shot while grabbing three rebounds and handing out one assist in six minutes.
"For now, that was one of the most important moments for me on the court. I still regret I missed the dunk though," said Olmaz.
Winning another U18 European Championship title for Turkey - especially on home soil - will likely come close to matching that moment.