Turkish small forward Ersan İlyasova, a frequent on the Turkish national basketball team, has been making a name for himself and Turkish basketball in a stunning US National Basketball Association (NBA) season with the Milwaukee Bucks this year.
Last month, the 24-year-old power forward was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for four games he played between March 5 and 11. Besides being İlyasova’s first such honor, this was the first time since March 2010 that a Bucks player has been recognized with the award. His average for those four games was 25.0 points, with 10.8 rebounds. He also shot 63.8 percent from the field, 66.7 from behind the arc and 90.0 from the free-throw line, besides managing three double-doubles while logging away the first two 30-point games of his career. He is currently leading the team in terms of points scored.
He is one of several Turkish players in the NBA today. His fellow countrymen include star forward Hidayet “Hedo” Türkoğlu on the Orlando Magic, injury-prone center and power forward Mehmet Okur, who recently left the New Jersey Nets, center Ömer Aşık of the Chicago Bulls and center and power forward Enes Kanter, who is currently with the Utah Jazz.
After rising up through the ranks at Ülker in the 2004-2005 season, İlyasova was drafted for the Bucks in 2005. He spent the 2005-2006 season with the Tulsa 66’ers in the NBA Development League and began playing with the Bucks the following year. In 2007 he moved to Barcelona, where he played for two years before returning to the Bucks and the NBA in 2009. In 60 outings with the Bucks last season, the 2.08-meter forward averaged 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 0.9 assists.
Although İlyasova has been with the Bucks since his return from Spain in 2009, during the NBA lockout earlier this season he signed an agreement with Turkish Basketball League side Anadolu Efes for one year or the duration of the lockout -- whichever came first. The lockout ended first, unfortunately for the Turkish side, which Ersan seemed hesitant to leave.
“Playing in the Euroleague is very exciting and makes me proud. Our agreement is until the NBA lockout ends, but if there is a change in the FIBA rules I am thinking of staying until the end of the year,” he said at the time, giving countless Efes fans hope that the NBA star would stick around. “I came because Anadolu Efes has created a great team and the Final Four will be in İstanbul this year,” he said in explanation of his choice. “I got a bunch of offers but I chose Anadolu Efes because they have put together such a good team. They are a team with great potential to win. That is why I came,” he added.
Although he was indeed called back to the NBA, he expressed his belief that Anadolu Efes would be able to carry on in his absence. “We got really good results in the league and our victories in the Euroleague brought us even closer to our goal. They will go to the Final Four even without me and achieve great things. There are talented players on the team. I definitely think that our trainer will find a solution within the team,” he said about how Efes would deal with his absence.
As for his own time spent away from Milwaukee, İlyasova said: “I did not idle away my time. This was a great help to me. For three months I trained well and played games. I reached good form. Also, I played in the Euroleague with Barcelona two years ago and I had missed European basketball. It was wonderful to play in the Euroleague with Anadolu Efes.” He rejoined the Bucks on Dec. 9, 2011 in fabulous form, leaving Anadolu Efes with good memories. Unfortunately, the team did not make it past the Euroleague Top 16 in February of this year, though it has fared better in the domestic league, currently occupying third place.
Back with the Bucks
Following the lockout, İlyasova has been described as “the Bucks brightest spot this season,” averaging 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game with 42.6 percent from behind the arc, which places him 15th in the NBA. These are all career high-points for him, meaning that the young forward, who has many good years of basketball ahead of him, is probably only going to get better.
It was reported in February that, in 31 games straight, the Turkish forward had managed at least one offensive rebound and, along with Orlando Magic’s Ryan Anderson, was the only player averaging three or more rebounds per game and shooting above 40 percent from three in the league this season. In a New Jersey game on Feb. 19, he made 29 points and 25 rebounds, making him the first Bucks player in over 30 years to play a 25/25 game.
To top it off, the Bucks’ star forward must figure out where to go from here, as his contract draws to a close at the end of this season and, with his track record, there should be more than enough options. However, he is trying to focus more on the present.
“I am not thinking about anything but winning. I also played with a winning team in Europe, as I was with Barcelona in the Final Four. This season we started off poorly, but we are doing well now. We have to keep fighting to continue this and get to the play offs,” he said, emphasizing the season rather than his future goals. “I will make a decision about my career at the end of the season. I do not want to think too much about it,” he added.