By Fersu Yahyabeyoglu/ Fersu@eurohoops.net
He is one of the most talented Turkish coaches of the new generation, however he is a free agent. He parted ways with Trabzonspor MP during the season due to bad results but he is still optimistic about the future. Eurohoops reached Hakan Demir and talked about the destiny of Turkish coaches, the side effects of the new foreign players rule in TBL and of course his favorite players and coaches.
– We know that you are also a doctor, so what is your expertise? By the way how did you decide to be a coach?
“My expertise is sports. I was born in Elazig (far east of Turkey) and raised there. I first met basketball from the TV series “The White Shadow” (ed.note: An American TV show about a white former NBA professional retires from the pro game and gets a job as a basketball coach in a predominantly black inner-city high school). So I tried to play basketball and learn on my own hook. I played in my high school team and also in some amateur teams. After that I went to Ankara as a university student and tried to find ways to still play basketball. Then I realized that it was too late to improve myself for the top level. Still, because of the passion and love inspired by the “White Shadow”, I wanted to be part of basketball, so I chose to be a coach. My father had been working with DSİ (ed.note: the General Directorate Of State Hydraulic Works in Turkey) and with his help I began to train kids during the summer camps of the company. By the way, I was also working as a doctor on the same time but in 1999 Anadolu Efes offered me a job and wanted me to make the choice between being a coach and a doctor. I decided to sign with Anadolu Efes, an opportunity every coach wishes for and of course I left my job as a doctor to begin my professional coaching career.”
– I think while you are working as an assistant coach, your head coach has to support you and helps you improve yourself. That’s important. Turkish teams should give some chances to Turkish coaches?
“You should be so lucky, as you are successful and most probably you should be luckier than successful… For me to be part of the Anadolu Efes family and be able to work with great coaches were huge opportunities. On 2000 we were all assistant coaches of the powerhouses in European basketball, Blatt with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Itoudis with Panathinaikos and I was in the stuff of Anadolu Efes. Now Blatt is the first European head coach in the NBA and Itoudis is very successful in his CSKA career as a head coach… It is important to work in a big club as an assistant coach, but it is crucial to work through a good master-apprentice relationship there. Also the stage you are in and how you react in every occasions are much more important. Allthese factors are building up your abilities. However there are less and less opportunities for Turkish coaches and getting a job is much more difficult.”
– In the 1998-99 season you worked as an assistant coach for Siena College in NCAA and you also worked as a head coach for Sion Herens in Switzerland First Division. How would you describe those two very interesting experiences?
“To work in the NCAA is about dreaming something and putting a fight for it, but of course there should be some kind of opportunities to fulfill your dreams. When I was studying abroad to finish my doctor’s degree I wanted to do something also in NCAA basketball. One of my friends told me that there was an open job in Siena College. Before that, TBF assigned me as the assistant coach of the FIBA World mixed team, Turkish basketball greats Muratcan Guler and Nedim Yucel were also in the roster for that team. We participated in 12 or 13 games against the best USA college teams. I was also doing my military duty on that time, so that was a great experience for me. Plus I gain permission to be in the USA while I was a soldier. When I was working in Siena College, there were also some other Turkish coaches working in the NCAA. Ergin Ataman was with Stanford and Ertugrul Erdogan was with Iowa State. I finished a successful and productive season under the helm of coach Paul Hewitt there.
For the Switzerland job, one foreign manager reached me and made me an offer. He told me that there was a team that wanted to invest and has been created with high expectations, but the team was underachieving and they were searching for a foreign coach. I accepted the offer cause I thought that this would be an interesting experience for me. Working in Switzerland was enjoyable, we reached the expectations by qualifying to the playoffs and we finished the season successfully. However there was a big difference between my dreams and the league’s potential so I returned to Turkey and signed with Besiktas IF as a head coach.”
– In Trabzonspor MP things were not good in the beginning of the season and as a result you and the club decided together to part ways. If you take a look at the bigger picture what is the main factor that made things worst than expected?
“If you want to improve yourself you need to face your errors, but you should also be objective. It will be a big mistake if you burden yourself hard or consider yourself perfect. People that trust me and worked with me together for years, made me feel that they needed me, so I left Aliaga during the season and signed with Trabzonspor MP. On the same time I could not get any kind of guarantees for the financial issues of Aliaga. When I came to Trabzonspor MP we were at the bottom of the league. Although our first goal was to avoid relegation, we finished the season in the 9th position and got to play in Eurochallenge. I wanted to participate in Eurochallenge because I knew that it will motivate the fans, city and sponsors as it happened during my Karsiyaka days. The fans will not be happy by the local achievements anymore, Turkey is a country that has completely turned its face to Europe. The new league rule which let us use five foreign players on the same time, was new for everybody and we tried to create a mix with the players that we knew before and players that have good reputation in Europe. The key player in this roster was Tutku Acik.
There should be a player to control the foreign players, the brain on the court and also a leader off the court. I created the system around Tutku. But after his surgery due to injury he could not get healthy and this spoiled all my plans. Anyway after my split, they strengthened this position with Can Altintig. We also lost our first home game and a hard schedule made things worse for us. Despite that, we won the two games that we played in Eurochallenge. When I decided to work as a coach professionally, I knew that there will be not only good days, but also bad days like these. In my Trabzonspor MP days, the board of directors gave me resources and fans contributed as well. I wish them good luck for the remainder of the season.”
– Why do Turkish coaches are not trying to get opportunities outside the country’s borders, while many foreign coaches are working in Turkey?
“In my opinion a coach from a competitive and quality league like TBL can be successful everywhere. In recent years Ergin Ataman, Oktay Mahmuti and Erman Kunter proved that, with their clubs giving them enough resources. Our league is importing every available good piece of basketball, however our coaches who made this league valuable can not be exported to Europe, cause European countries prefer much more coaches from their internal market. There is a idiom: “If there is no chair left for you on a feast, most probably you are in the menu” and that describes definitely the situation of the Turkish coaches for now. The coaches that can escape from that menu without being eaten, they will be successful. All in all, we developed this league into this quality, competitive level and high reputation together with directors, players, coaches, sponsors and referees and now all basketball people across Europe aspire to work in TBL. However the people that promoted the league into this position can not find their real value in European basketball. If the trade is bidirectional, then the system will be safe and healthy. If we consider that this is not happening, because of our coaches’ abilities, we would be wrong. Like we opened our league’s door to them, they should open their doors to our coaches, they should create opportunities for us also.”
– What will be the side affects of the new foreigners rule to Turkish basketball?
“Turkish players that dedicated themselves to their teams, they can help their teams get in a better level also in this system. At the same time players that put toughness and character on the court, become prominent without the need to look into their passports.
The coaches in the league had some routines according to the old 3+2 foreign players system for many years (ed.note: At least two Turkish players had to be on the court during the game). Some coaches could use the rotation well enough, some of them prefer to play with a restricted rotation. In the new system it is difficult for a Turkish player to get minutes in a team that uses a restricted rotation. Turkish players should work hard, be patient and be persistent. Also the coaches have the ability to realize that they can use a bigger rotation if needed. The new rule with 5 foreign players and the old 3+2 rule are completely different from each other, like white and black. The new rule affects much more the Turkish players in the rotation. And if I should make some self-criticism, I can not prepare myself well for this new rule before the season in a team that everybody else also did not know the new system.
In my Karsiyaka season, we had the chance to give time to players just promoted from the young team like Furkan Aldemir and Birkan Batuk into the starting five, because of the 3+2 rule and budget problems. So these players did improve well enough by getting minutes, but now there is no such obligation. Coaches should insist on using Turkish players, however players should also develop their game constantly, use their playing time productively without errors and put their character on the floor in order to make a difference. By the way coaches are always under pressure and unfortunately because of these conditions coaches may not use a rotation wisely. When the rule was 3+2, we as coaches were still complaining that we could not compete with the top big budget teams, because we could not buy quality local talent. The teams that participated in European competitions, they could not compete with their high quality opponents because of this rule and the league restrictions. The transition was really fast from 3+2 to 5 foreign players on the starting five and that’s why we can not see the results of this solution immediately.
Some of the teams that had a long time core in their rosters, made the appropriate additions and took advantage of this new rule, however the new build teams faced some difficulties. We will wait and see. On the other hand, increasing the teams in the league can also create some more opportunities for Turkish players. Our league can “feed” 18 teams in today’s system. This will be better both for players and coaches. By the way Turkish players should be more ambitious, try to play in European clubs and maybe they should even renounce their lucrative contracts and prefer foreign clubs in which they can get many more minutes”.
– If you had a good budget, but you could only take players from TBL who will be in your roster?
– This time you can only pick players from Euroleague, except those who compete in Turkish teams. Which are your picks?
– The best five from the players that you managed before as a head coach?
“PG: Mire Chatman
SF: Haluk Yıldırım
PF: Andre Smith
C: Jovo Stanojevic”
– Who is your favorite coach except Ivkovic and Obradovic?
“Ivanovic with the physical quality that give to his team and Itoudis with his tactical abilities are my favorite coaches.”
– What are your career plans?
“I want to use this time to think and improve myself. In the last 10 seasons I have been using mostly the same system for years, because I have been working as a head coach who was trying to promote the mid-table teams in hard conditions. However I should develop this system more and work on it with the goal to renew it. I am following the European leagues closely and making some deep research. Of course I also use this opportunity to spend much more time with my family that I missed them some much through these years.”