By Kostas Giataganas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The summer is hot and with signings like Scottie Wilbekin’s, the temperature rises even higher!
The American who now has a Turkish passport and is a… player for the country’s national team, saw his stocks go up after an amazing season in the EuroCup, where he took David Blatt’s Darussafaka team by the hand and led them to the title and the return to the EuroLeague.
Efes went after him hard, reached an agreement with him but couldn’t do the same with Darussafaka, and Maccabi were lurking and took advantage of this fact, making him their own with an expensive contract so that he can lead them once again to the highest levels of the EuroLeague.
Eurohoops sketches out Wilbekin’s profile and traces his footsteps from college to… Australia, his Greek experience with AEK, and then Turkey, where he raised his stocks to such an extent, he became a bone of contention.
Creator and scorer
Wilbekin’s great advantage is that, the more he plays at a high level, the more he improves in areas where he had trouble at a younger age, like free throw shooting.
In general, he’s a guard who makes things easier for the coach since he can create but also score without forcing too many attempts at the expense of the team’s general function.
He may not be very big (1.88m) or have athletic qualities, but he’s always combative, thinks and executes fast, and knows when he has to increase the tempo and when to slow things down, something he developed in college, especially under the instructions of Billy Donovan.
The (turbulent) college years
Wilbekin was born on April 5, 1993, and began his studies at the University of Florida in 2010, at the same time being a member of Billy Donovan’s Gators, where, among other players, Nick Calathes also spent his college years.
His rise was steady until 2013, however as much as his talent was blooming on the court, his self-destructive character wasn’t helping him and, as a result, the coach imposed punishments, either by excluding him from games or by giving him extra work in training.
During his third year in the Gators, he was suspended with a three-game ban and it almost cost him his college career.
So, it wasn’t long before an ultimatum was given to him in order to correct his ways and listen to both Billy Donovan as well as his father, Svend Wilbekin, who used to be a coach but also a pastor.
The dangerous situation in which Wilbekin found himself helped him realize that there was only one way he could succeed. And he did it by changing completely, on and off the court, and becoming his team’s leader in his last year (2013/2014), leading them to a 32-2 record, with 26 wins in a row, and the title of the Southeastern Conference as well as the ticket to the Final Four, being named the SEC Player of the Year in the process thanks to his 13.1 points, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
Australia and AEK
The NBA was a dream for the Florida graduate, however his efforts were fruitless since he was not selected in the draft, while he didn’t find any open doors after playing in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Sixers.
The opportunity he was given came from Australia and the Cairns Taipans, with who he got to the finals of the NBL, where they lost to the Perth Wildcats, with Wilbekin chalking up 15.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals.
After the end of the season in Australia he came to AEK’s attention, with Dragan Sakota, who had taken over as head coach, suggesting they acquire him, and so on 12/3/2015, Wilbekin became a player for the club at 22 years of age.
With AEK he played in a total of nine games at the end of the season, six in the regular season and three in the playoffs, averaging 8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists and making a good impression.
In his short presence in OAKA he showed facets of his talent, in terms of creation and organization, and AEK wanted to hold on to him. However, the player’s mind was in the USA and on how he could get an opportunity in the NBA.
The Darussafaka chapter
This is how he found himself in the Summer League again, this time with the Magic and then again with the Sixers, who seemed willing to give him the big chance. In July 2015 he signed a 4-year contract but didn’t manage to… enjoy it as he was released just before the first jump ball of the NBA season and after having played in five games in the preseason.
So, he turned to Europe, with AEK trying to get a hold of him again, but that’s where the prospect of the EuroLeague came about, with Darussafaka putting him on the map at the highest level.
His rookie season in the top club competition was under the instructions of Oktay Mahmuti and was very good (10.3 points, 2.3 assists), while he evolved even further in the two years with David Blatt.
In the 2016/2017 season he counted 11.6 points, 3.2 assists, with 40.4% from the 6.75m line in the EuroLeague, reaching the competition’s playoffs and getting close to making the Final Four with his team.
MVP, Turkish nationality and the… bone of contention
The big bang, however, came in the season that was just completed. Darussafaka played in the EuroCup with a smaller budget and with Wilbekin in a leading role, to which he responded pretty well.
His performance was explosive with 19.7 points, 4.8 assists and 42.8% in three-point shooting. In 18 games in the competition, he scored single digits in just two, while he went wild in the semifinal against Bayern, where he scored 41 points with the outlandish 10-for-15 in three-point shooting!
But he didn’t stop there, since in the finals against Lokomotiv Kuban he was the main reason that Darussafaka got a break and won the trophy, with 24 points in Krasnodar and another 28 in Istanbul, winning the MVP award for his contribution to his team’s return to the EuroLeague.
He has proven that that’s where he belongs and where he couldn’t be missing from ahead of the new season.
Not in Istanbul, though. After three years with Darussafaka, the American felt that the circle had come to a close, after obtaining a Turkish passport and succeeding Bobby Dixon as a naturalized player in Turkey’s national team.
He already made his debut with Turkey in FIBA World Cup windows, and he wants to go to China’s World Cup with them.
Since he is now a Turkish international, in the beginning it seemed that he would stay in Turkey, since he had agreed with Efes. But the talks with Darussafaka went south and Maccabi, who wanted the player badly, took advantage of this development, came up with a bundle of money and, in the end, got what they wanted as they made him their own in order to build around him a newly competitive team for the Final Four.