The Turkish Women’s National Team: A Decade to Remember

Dec 10, 2013

The women who have brought basketball in Turkey to unprecedented heights over the last 9 years—Nevriye Yılmaz, Birsel Vardalı, Esmeral Tunçluer, I
şıl Alben, Quanitra Hollingsworth and others—will go up against the world’s best in their quest for gold at the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women.

2005: A Turning Point
2005 marked a turning point in the history of women’s basketball in Turkey. As the host nation for EuroBasket Women 2005 Turkey automatically qualified for its first continental championship, but more importantly, proved to its fans and competitors that it belonged among Europe’s elite.

“Looking back on EuroBasket Women 2005, it was an unforgettable experience,” said TBF Board Member Jülide Sonat, who also oversees women’s basketball. “But it was also a motivating experience. For the first time the world saw the potential for women’s basketball in Turkey."

The squad opened the tournament with an 81–69 win over Serbia and Montenegro before taking on tournament favourite Russia. The team battled down to the wire, but suffered a tough 91–87 loss to the Russians despite a dominant performance from centre Nevriye Yımaz, who had 26 points and 14 rebounds in a game that confirmed her status as one of the best players in Europe.

After a loss to Lithuania, the squad’s match-up with Romania came down to the game’s final seconds. The Turks came from behind again, with Yasemin Horasan sealing the 64–62 win with a game-clinching basket with just 1.5 seconds left on the clock.

In the quarter-finals Turkey drew eventual gold medallist Czech Republic and lost 86–60. Still, the EuroBasket first-timers showed their country and Europe the bright future for women’s basketball in Turkey. Yılmaz finished the tournament fourth in scoring (19.5) and first in rebounding (11.3).

“Although it was our first EuroBasket, we had high expectations for ourselves,” Yılmaz said. “The success we experienced motivated us to work harder and set our sights high.”

2011: On the Podium
Just six years after its EuroBasket debut the Turkish women finished the tournament’s 2011 edition on the podium and brought silver medals home to a proud country.

The team got off to a tough start, opening the tournament with a 64–58 loss to Lithuania before getting back on track with the help of 20 points from Birsel Vardalı in a 76–60 win over Slovakia. But subsequent losses to Russia and the Czech Republic put Turkey’s quarter-final hopes in danger.

With the loss Turkey needed wins against Great Britain and 2010 World Championship semi-finalist Belarus to advance. The team passed its first test with a 64–57 win over Great Britain.

“The Belarus match was a huge test for us,” team manager Canan Erdoğan said. “We were determined to reach the quarter-finals, and our players gave a terrific effort.”

Against favoured Belarus Şaziye Ivegin shined, going 4–6 from three-point range for a game-high 17 points. Turkey jumped out to a 24–14 lead after one quarter and did not let up on its way to the round of sixteen. But unlike in 2005, for Turkey the quarter-finals were just the beginning.

The Turks faced a streaking and undefeated Montenegro in their first elimination game. The Montenegrins led 27–24 at the half, but Turkey came storming back in the third quarter. Ivegin was again lethal from deep, shooting 4–5 from three-point range with a game-high 14 points. With a 56–44 win Turkey punched its ticket to its first ever EuroBasket semi-final.

The road to the podium didn’t get any easier in the semi-finals, as the upstarts faced defending EuroBasket champion France. In what proved to be the most exciting game of the tournament, Turkey continued its historic run with a 68–62 overtime win. This time Nevin Nevlin was the star, with 23 points and 8 rebounds. The win secured Turkey’s first ever medal in EuroBasket history.

In the finals Russia jumped ahead early and never looked back, clinching gold with a 59–42 victory. Still, the silver medallists returned home having made history, and Nevriye Yılmaz became the first Turkish player ever selected to the All-EuroBasket Team.

“It was a great personal honour, but winning the first ever medal for Turkey in European competition was far more meaningful,” Yılmaz said.

2012: Olympians
In June 2012 wins over Puerto Rico, Japan and Argentina at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara secured Turkey its first Olympic birth at the London Games.

In London the team made its mark on the global stage. Turkey went 4–1 in group play, earning wins over Angola, the Czech Republic, China and Croatia, losing only to the United States, the tournament’s eventual champion.

The quarter-finals were a re-match of the 2011 EuroBasket Final, Turkey versus Russia. Becky Hammon gave Russia the lead with 13 seconds left in the game to put a heart-breaking 66–63 end to Turkey’s medal dreams.

“The Olympic experience is without parallel,” Erdoğan said. “Our players gave everything they had, and made an important statement about how far Turkish basketball had come in a short period.”

Turkey finished the tournament fifth, putting the world on notice that it had made the jump from a European force to a global force in women’s basketball.

2013: Medallists Again
In 2013 Turkey entered EuroBasket as a medal favourite for the first time. The squad jumped out to a torrid start in France, with wins over Ukraine, Montenegro, Slovakia, Italy and Sweden.

In the round of sixteen Turkey faced Belarus, and earned a 55–41 victory to return to the semi-finals for the second straight EuroBasket.

The semi-final was a re-match of the 2011 EuroBasket semis, with France and Turkey going head-to-head. Turkey got off to a slow start, falling behind 22–11 after the first quarter. Esmeral Tunçluer scored 20 points as Turkey fought its way back into the game, but it was not enough to return to the finals. France won 57–49.

However, Turkey was not done. The team bounced back in the bronze medal game with an offensive explosion, defeating Serbia 92–71 to return home with its second consecutive EuroBasket medal.

“To win a second consecutive medal at EuroBasket proved that the success of 2011 was no fluke,” Sonat said. “The women on the national team showed that Turkey is a leading basketball country with even more success to come.”

2014: At Home on the World’s Biggest Stage
This summer, Turkey gets the chance to play in front of its own fans once more. The women who have brought basketball in Turkey to unprecedented heights over the last 8 years—Nevriye Yılmaz, Birsel Vardalı, Esmeral Tunçluer, Işıl Alben, Quanitra Hollingsworth and others—will go up against the world’s best in their quest for gold. As they continue to make history, we will be watching and supporting them every step of the way.

“This tournament is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Yılmaz said. “The chance to play in front of our home fans, on the world’s biggest stage, it is going to be very special. We will be ready, and we know our supporters will be too.”

Also in the December newsletter:
Message from the President
A Conversation with Coach Chris Dial
Be Our Guest: Turkey A Premiere Destination for International Basketball
On the Road to 2014: Inside the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women