|Tayfun Erülkü is playing his second U16 European Championship and more than doubled his point average to 15.8 per contest|
by Yarone Arbel
In Opposition to previous years Turkey didn't enjoy a great summer so far in FIBA Europe competitions after the U20 squad played in the Classification Round and the U18 team reached just one stage higher with the 9-12 Classification Round.
As Turkey got used to fighting for medals their last chance to avoid a "bad summer" and do something in the 2010 youth basketball scene is on the shoulders of their youngest team in the U16 European Championship.
So far it's working well and the Turks are ranked third in Group E of the Qualifying Round with a 2-1 record, a single win away from securing their ticket to the quarter-finals.
One of the reasons for that is Tayfun Erülkü who leads his team in points, assists and steals so far, and excels on the court.
He's ranked Top10 in seven different categories including Points Per Game (15.8 - 4th), Steals (2.3 - 10th) but also Turnovers (3.8 - 9th) and surely not a player to miss when watching the Turks play.
His name may sound very Turkish, and although not highly popular it's not unique just for our feature hero, but it means exactly what it sounds like - a storm system you don't want to be around when it's on.
Ironically the same can be said about him when he's on the court and things start to connect.
Erülkü is a very active guard and a good athlete. He can hurt you from the perimeter but also use his good physical tools to slash to the rim and finish well, aware of the passing lanes but could improve his defense and decision making.
Like almost any kid in Turkey, and other countries, Erülkü started to play football with his buddies in his home town Izmir, but didn't fit in that game and soon moved to try the orange ball sport.
"It was kind of funny, because it didn't take much for me not to be involved in basketball at all," he remembers in an interview he gave to the official website of the tournament.
"When I started to play I was overweight and the coaches didn't like me very much.
"Actually my high school coach didn't take me on the team, but I didn't give up and went to try out with a club team in my home town Izmir, and somehow I made the very last cut to the team, which eventually kept me in basketball and 'saved' my career.
"In the first year I didn't shoot any ball. They just asked me to be on the court and not make mistakes," he smiles when telling.
"Then I started to lose weight, got in shape and my body changed and I became one of the best players in my region, so I moved to Efes Pilsen a couple of years ago and now I play with the national team."
Yet this is already his second run with the national team, as last year he was a younger member on the U16 team that played in Kaunas, Lithuania.
That team was surely one of the favorites to win a medal, but dropped a quarter-finals game against Spain and missed a big chance.
Erülkü doesn't forget that piece of history and is trying to make sure it won't happen again this time.
"Last year we were more a team of stars, let's say, than one group," he recalls.
"We reached the quarter-finals and things started well, but then Spain took over and we were confused and didn't play as a team to overcome it.
"I keep telling my new teammates here about it all the time, and how we had a great chance to play for a medal but we missed it because we didn't play as a team."
That lesson is well taken by Erülkü and his friends too, as this year the Turkish squad has a unique atmosphere.
"What makes us special is the connection we have with each other," he says with confidence.
"We always hang out together, and have great fun. We dance, we sing, we make a lot of jokes and let's say that sometimes we stretch the limits with our coaching staff with our jokes."
The young guard shares also that the team even put together an anthem one of the players wrote down and they use it to boost up their unity.
So far Turkey's performance looks like a roller-coaster.
They started with a 71-50 impressive win over Russia, then lost by double-digits to Montenegro, were almost eliminated by Israel and were saved despite a 58-61 defeat and now smashed Bulgaria 77-60.
Our interview partner already knows the reasons for that.
"We started the tournament very well and beat Russia by 21 points, and that gave us a lot of confidence, but perhaps it was too much confidence," admits the youngster.
"In the next games we didn't play as we could, and didn't work hard on defense as we should have and that's why we lost twice in a row.
"Against Bulgaria we came back with more energy and now we're in a good situation to reach the quarter-finals but we'll have to continue to work hard.
"Our defense is one of the things that will win games for us, and we'll have to bring that to every game if we want to win because the more advanced we go the better teams we'll face."
Taking a medal here has an extra attribute than saving this "Turkish summer" and the obvious joy in standing on the podium.
With a great performance here the young Turks will be honored next month during the FIBA 2010 World Championship in Turkey by their federation and will be presented to the Turkish masses as the future of the World Championship hosts.
The young Erülkü doesn't have any memories from 2001 when he was seven years old and Turkey hosted EuroBasket and reached the title game, but the upcoming event surely takes a big space in his plans.
"Almost the whole country is excited to host such a big event as the basketball World Championship," he verdicts.
"Almost every person you ask about it in the street will know what you're talking about and in such a huge country it says a lot.
"Our team has big plans for the World Championship and I hope they'll make a great result, as they'll have a great support from all the country.
"I hope we'll give them a small inspiration with a good result here first."