HomeBasketballNational team hero Tunceri: ''2010 is the best memory of my career''

National team hero Tunceri: ”2010 is the best memory of my career”

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ISTANBUL (Türkiye) – The road to the title for the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2024 has been paved with the draw being held on March 27. Kerem Tunceri assisted with the festivities and knows how all the participants are feeling. He too played at a number of youth events and even reached the podium before launching a successful senior team career.

The former long-time Turkish international performed the draw in Istanbul and afterwards talked about how important playing youth competitions is for measuring your own standing and developing chemistry within a national team over the long term.

“Every tournament in every age group adds something to improve yourself. I think these young men will see it themselves,” Tunceri said.

The Istanbul native knows from experience. He played in the cadet continental championship in 1995, at the junior level in 1996, in the FIBA World Championship for Men 22 and Under in 1997 and the U22 European competition in 1998.

Türkiye at the FIBA 1997 World Championship for Men 22 and Under – Tunceri in front row second from left

One of Tunceri’s teammate for all four summers was Hidayet Turkoglu, now president of the Turkish Basketball Federation, while they also played together at multiple youth events with fellow Türkiye stars Mehmet Okur, Omer Onan and Serkan Erdogan.

“We were all together with our generation from the youth championships to the senior level and we played together. It helped our improvement and we started to understand the value of the national team and the importance wearing the national team jersey,” Tunceri said.

Tunceri and that grouping of players culminated their Türkiye youth careers by grabbing the third place in the U22 European competition in 1998 in Trapani, Italy.

“If I remember correctly, it was in Italy. We won a bronze medal. All the games we played there were very important for me. I don’t recall game by game, but that tournament has a place in my memory,” said Tunceri, who averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Tunceri graduated to the Turkish senior national team in 1999 and in 2001 was part of the first country’s first podium finish, taking second place in the FIBA EuroBasket 2001 at home.

Tunceri collected 1.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 20 minutes per game as just a 22-year-old. Turkoglu, Okur and Onan were all part of the team too, and the youngsters joined Ibrahim Kutluay and Mirsad Turkcan, who were four and two years older than the group, respectively.

The chemistry Tunceri’s generation had built in the youth ranks together helped them to better integrate into the senior team together.

“It was very important as you play together from very young ages until the senior level. You grow up together. Maybe you play in the same club or against each other. But you still wear the same jersey in national team events. And by playing together in every level in youth tournaments, you build a chemistry and it gives an advantage for you as a team,” Tunceri said.

The group remained together and the next generation of Turkish talents were added over the years and Türkiye were a loaded team for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010.

Tunceri (in background in red), Gunlum, Onan and Turkoglu (from left to right)

While Okur was not with the 2010 team, joining Tunceri, Turkoglu and Onan were Ersan Ilyasova, Semih Erden, Omer Asik, Sinan Guler, Kerem Gunlum, Ender Arslan, Oguz Savas, Cenk Akyol and Baris Ermis. That arguably was the greatest collection of talent a Türkiye team had ever assembled.

On top of the talent, the team was playing the FIBA World Cup at home. Türkiye stormed through the competition, beating Côte d’Ivoire, Russia, Greece, Puerto Rico and China for a perfect group stage.

 
Tunceri and co. then knocked off France and Slovenia to reach the Semi-Finals and a date with Serbia.

A tight game had Serbia up by one point with 4.3 seconds left, and it was time for something special.

Arslan inbounded the ball to Turkoglu just beyond midcourt and he then gave a bounce pass to Tunceri on the sideline. The guard received the ball and drove hard to the basket from the left side and laid the ball up with his right hand to make it 83-82 for the hosts and send the crowd into delirium.

The game-winning layup in 2010 – a moment Türkiye fans will never forget

“We can say that it was the best memory of my career. I think it is a good memory both for me and for our country. I was fortunate enough to score perhaps one of the most important points in Turkish basketball history,” Tunceri recalled.

“The happiness and joy of the Turkish people were amazing. Also, we came into that game with no defeats and had a great tournament. It was very important both to our country and for our national team. I don’t have a specific memory but I remember that night after we won the game, we went to our hotel with a big crowd following us and there were people celebrating everywhere.

“The roads were full as everybody was celebrating and we reached to our hotel in 1.5 hours which normally took 10 minutes. The love they showed us was amazing and I remember it with a smile. Those were very special moments. I think no one in that team can forget those memories from that tournament.”

Tunceri scored 12 points in the game and the Turks were Final-bound to face the mighty USA. Türkiye were no match for the Americans in Final – an 81-64 USA victory.

Still, Türkiye had made history with their first-ever FIBA World Cup podium finish and gave their home fans a memory for the ages – similar to back at the EuroBasket 2001 at home.

Tunceri knows the next young Türkiye generation is close to embarking on a new journey of their own, starting with the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2024 at home in Istanbul from June 29 to July 7.

“I think it will be a different excitement and experience for the Turkish players to play in front of home crowd,” the 44-year-old Tunceri said.

“I advise them to enjoy it. They will have great memories when they look back in the future.”

Türkiye have only played at the U17 World Cup twice, taking second place in their debut in 2016 and then finishing fifth in 2018.

When asked about the team’s chances to perform well in front of the home fans, Tunceri said: “We always hope that they will reach the Final. But of course, they need to go step by step. The aim though is to reach a medal. I believe they can achieve this.”

And who knows where it could lead down the road.

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