Turkey got as close as anyone possibly could to an upset for the ages but it just wasn’t enough and, Emmet Ryan writes, it was a gut punching end to a rough day for European teams at the 2019 FIBA World Cup
In the summer of 2017, Sertaç Şanlı was meant to be dropping to a second tier team in Turkey and remaining wholly off the radar of relevancy in global basketball. On Tuesday he played relevant minutes and was generally fine, albeit offensively irrelevant, as Turkey pushed a USA team loaded with NBA players to the absolute brink.
Şanlı had been plucked from obscurity by Ufuk Sarıca, the coach of Turkey and Besiktas (at the time) to play for both sides. Şanlı was part of a Turkish side that made a run to the second phase of Eurobasket on home soil, then made the Turkish league finals with Besiktas in his first season. Two years on he’d sign with Anadolu Efes and be part of that side as it reached the title game of Euroleague while winning the Turkish title.
Sertaç Şanlı could easily be nothing right now but he was moments from being part of one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of the sport on Tuesday. That’s how insane Turkey’s run with the USA was.
Sarıca is the story behind the story. The impressively relaxed looking Turkey coach is not a noted strategist but at every stop in his career, with the national side, Besiktas, and, most notably, in leading Pinar Karsiyaka to the Turkish championship after a miracle run in 2015, he has been known for one thing above all else: He gets every drop of basketball out of his players.
Melih Mahmutoğlu struggles to see the court for Fenerbahce, despite being club captain, yet here he was drilling threes like a machine in the faces of men who probably only saw him on tape for the first time a few days ago.
Semih Erden? He’s spent a couple of seasons jumping about non-Euroleague or even Eurocup level clubs in Turkey in recent years but, stick that red jersey on him and he is still SEMIH.
Buğrahan Tuncer? He struggles to get any minutes for Efes, yet he was out there working. All of this past their prime, nearly men, under rated assets, so many of them who are just plain not seen as key pieces in Europe never mind the NBA, were this close to one of the ultimate upsets.
Then, they weren’t.
And now the rest…
Oh Deutschland. You had one job, take care of business against Dominican Republic and then get the easy W over Jordan on Thursday to punch a ticket to the second phase. Instead, viewers were subjected to an error strewn mess where the underdogs from the Americas made slightly fewer mistakes to progress.
Germany will feel aggrieved by a late out of bounds call that somehow got overturned on replay to give Dominican Republic possession when there was nothing approaching conclusive evidence but they really can’t put this loss down to one call. A full strength German team just plain wasn’t good enough when it had to be, a terrible result.
Montenegro isn’t mathematically gone but it needs all kinds of help to dig its way out now after falling to New Zealand. Having fallen to Greece in the opening round, it was never going to be easy but the Tall Blacks were meant to be the side they got the job done against to give themselves a chance to progress with a win over Brazil in the final round. Instead, the first time qualifiers are stuck looking for a lot of help and that win they need over Brazil to have any hope of going through.
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Like we’d forget Greece, they…well…they did not look like the bona fide medal contenders we slotted them in as in their battle with Brazil. Giannis Antetokounmpo had drawn his fourth foul by the mid point of the fourth.
Brazil played a heck of a basketball game but Greece just plain looked out of ideas for large parts of this game, essentially gifting opportunities to Brazil to keep the former finalists at bay.
The play to tie it up was a smart one but the execution was awful. Giannis immediately fouled out and things looked done. The saviour was, of course, Kostas Sloukas. Until he missed the last free throw. Now they have a survival game.
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Lithuania and France were the most business like of all the European sides in action on Tuesday, picking up clear cut wins over Canada and Jordan respectively. Both progressed with ease while Czech Republic ensured that their battle with Turkey on Thursday will be a winner-take-all battle to decide who makes it through to the next stage as they took down Japan. The obvious question with Turkey is what do they have left after the USA game. The obvious answer is that you’ve clearly never paid attention to Ufuk Sarıca.
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