The Club Scene: Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul

Apr 01, 2016 by Javier Gancedo and Frankie Sachs, Print
The Club Scene: Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul

Before this season, Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul has spent three of the previous four playing in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, in which it reached the Top 16 each time and the playoffs once. Now Coach Ergin Ataman, in his fourth season at the helm, has Galatasaray close to its first continental trophy and a return to the continental elite. This is not the first dominant stretch for the club, which played a central role in the growth of basketball in Turkey and was one of its first powerhouse clubs. However, throughout its long and prosperous history, a 14-point Game 1 victory over Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas in the Eurocup Semifinals is among the most-important wins to date. But it could be dwarfed by what’s to come next as Galatasaray targets Eurocup glory.

Not only is Galatasaray one of the world's oldest sports clubs, but it helped introduce basketball to the country early in the 20th century. Basketball was first played in Turkey in 1911 inside the Galatasaray Lycee, an Istanbul high school from which the club takes its name. Ahmet Robenson, a physical education teacher at Galatasaray high school was the key figure in that development. Robenson became the Galatasaray S.K. president later and helped the game grow in popularity. Robenson also introduced hockey and tennis to the country, and was the football team's goalkeeper; he helped it win the Istanbul League title in 1908. As in many sports in the country, Galatasaray is a pioneer in Turkish basketball history, and the sport has always been very important for the club.

Basketball did not formally become a Galatasaray sports section until the early 1930s. The team lived immediately rose to the expectations and became a dominant force by winning four consecutive Istanbul League titles from 1933 to 1936. Galatasaray continued to dominate Turkish basketball and claimed the Istanbul League trophy 14 consecutive times from 1941 to 1954. The Turkish League was born in 1946 and Galatasaray became the team to beat there, too, with 11 titles between 1947 and 1966, including four in a row from 1947 to 1950. Following its eighth Turkish League title in 1960, the club made its debut in European club competition by taking part in the 1960-61 European Cup. Galatasaray swept Olympiacos in the first two-game round, but lost in the eighthfinals to Hapoel Tel Aviv. The club was 1 point away from reaching the European Cup eighthfinals in 1964, but Steaua Bucuresti stood in its way to success.

Galatasaray became a regular team in European competitions in the 1960s and 1970s, not only in the European Cup, but also in the new Cup Winners' Cup, before it changed its name to the Saporta Cup. Although it failed to reach the group stage in international competition, Galatasaray remained competitive at home. With Peter Simenov as its head coach, Galatasaray won another Turkish League title in 1969, followed by a Turkish Cup in 1970. Several years of obscurity followed, however, as Galatasaray failed to contend for trophies at home and ceased reaching European competitions. Galatasaray bounced back in 1982 by finishing fifth and earning the right to play the 1982-83 Korac Cup preliminary round. Although it lost to Hungarian side Zalaegerszegi on point difference, Galatasaray fans did not have to wait too long to see their team return to glory.

Everything fell into place again in 1985, as Galatasaray put together a competitive roster featuring Michael Scearce and Paul Dawkins as its foreign players. Turgay Demirel, today the President of FIBA Europe, was one of its main players back then, along with defensive ace Cihat Levent, Mehmet Bac and Mehmet Ali Tlabar. Galatasaray was second at the end of the regular season and defeated Tofas and Cukurova Sanayi in the playoffs to make it to the best-of-three finals against archrival Fenerbahce. Galatasaray registered an 89-83 win in Game 1, but Fenerbahce tied the series, forcing a do-or-die showdown. Galatasaray topped Fener 74-68 in Game 3 to lift the Turkish League trophy for the first time in 16 years. Moreover, the club returned to the European Cup. That return was cut short by a preliminary-round loss against defending – and eventual – champion Cibona Zagreb. Despite Galatasaray scoring 203 points in two games, the Petrovic brothers led Cibona to a two-game sweep on the way to its second consecutive continental crown.

Galatasaray retained its main players in 1986 and – despite finishing third in the regular season – lived up to the expectations. Galatasaray eliminated Fenerbahce in the quarterfinals and survived a tough battle against Cukurova in the semifinals, winning Game 3 by 91-92 to advance to the title series against Efes Pilsen. Led by Calvin Roberts and Scott Roth, Efes won Game 1, but Galatasaray tied the series with an 86-90 victory. It all came down once again to Game 3, in which Galatasaray used its experience to beat Efes 65-79 to win its second consecutive Turkish League title. At the start of the next season, 1986-87, Galatasaray reached the European Cup's third qualifying round, but Zalgiris and legendary center Arvydas Sabonis stood in its way to the group stage.

The club's last Turkish League title came in 1990, with Pete Williams as its star player. Galatasaray swept Efes Pilsen in the semifinals and downed Pasabahce 3-1 in the best-of-five finals to finish a near-perfect domestic season. In 1995, David Henderson and Levent Topsakal helped Galatasaray add another Turkish Cup to its trophy case. The club reached the Korac Cup elimination rounds that season before losing to TDK Manresa. After that, Galatasaray remained a strongly competitive club in Turkey and became a perennial playoff team, which made eight consecutive Korac Cup or Saporta Cup appearances between 1993 and 2001. Galatasaray reached the Korac Cup eighthfinals in 1999 and 2000, cementing its status as a competitive mid-range club in European basketball. The team bounced back from several underwhelming seasons in 2007, when Gerald Fitch led the Turkish League in scoring and together with Fatih Solak and Jeff Graves helped Galatasaray to fourth place in the regular season and a quarterfinal sweep of rival Besiktas Cola Turka in the playoffs before losing to eventual champion Fenerbahce in the semis.

Its ULEB Cup debut came in the 2007-08 season - and it was a very strong one. With Charles Gaines, Cuneyt Erden, Robert Hite and Huseyin Besok as its main stars, Galatasaray survived its regular season group without many problems and downed Asvel Basket and Kalise Gran Canaria to make it to the Final Eight - a great achievement for a team that had not played European competitions since 2003. Galatasaray then knocked off Besiktas 60-61 in the quarterfinals on a game-winning triple by Erden before losing to eventual champion DKV Joventut with Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez 90-83 in the semifinals. The following season, Galatasaray did not survive the Eurocup qualifying rounds and only reached the EuroChallenge Top 16. Back home, the club returned to the Turkish League semifinals for the second time in three years, but fell to Efes Pilsen.

Galatasaray set its sights high for the 2009-10 campaign with a quartet of well-known signings, Darius Washington, who led the Eurocup in scoring with 21.6 points per game, Mike Wilkinson, Rado Rancik and Simas Jasaitis, however a lack of depth saw the team come up short in the Last 16 and fade out to miss the Turkish playoffs on a tiebreaker. Oktay Mahmuti took the coaching reins in 2010 and though it took a while for things to click – Galatasaray was again ousted from the Eurocup prior to the elimination rounds, when it came together the team was hard to beat. The team surged to a 22-8 record and third place in the Turkish League before sweeping Besiktas in the quarterfinals and beating Banvit 3-1 in the semis. Fenerbahce awaited in the finals and took charge with blowout wins in Games 1 and 2. Galatasaray fought back behind Josh Ship and Luks Andric to win Games 3 and 5, but ultimately fell in six games. However its finals appearance meant that Galatasaray would have a chance to fight for a ticket to the 2011-12 Euroleague via the qualifying rounds.

With a very balanced squad, Galatasaray was strong from the start as it defeated PAOK Thessaloniki and Asvel Basket in the first two qualifying rounds before ousting Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius 71-63 in the Lithuanian capital to clinch a berth in the Euroleague Regular Season. Then sweeps of Asseco Prokom and Union Olimija Ljubljana paved the way for Galatasaray to the Top 16. And home wins over Olympiacos, CSKA Moscow and Anadolu Efes sent Galatasaray into the Top 16 finale in Piraeus where a win over Olympiacos would have been enough for a historic ticket to the playoffs. Alas Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis were too strong, but Galatasaray walked away with its heads held high and turned to domestic action. Its 25-5 record was tied for best in the league, but Besiktas upset Galatasaray 3-1 in the semifinals.

Ataman stepped in as head coach in 2012 and brought in a new frontcourt with Boni Ndong and Milan Macvan. Mid-season signing Carlos Arroyo joined Jamont Gordon at guard. Galatasaray again came up short in the Eurocup Last 16, but then reached the Turkish cup finals and repeated as the best team in the Turkish League regular season, this time with a 27-3 record. Then after sweeping Tofas and Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Galatasaray won the first three games of the finals against Banvit before celebrating a 76-58 Game 5 victory to win the series and the Turkish League for the first time in 23 years.

Zoran Erceg and Nate Jawai came aboard for the 2013-14 season and even though Jawai suffered a season-ending injury in the second game, Furkan aldemir stepped up and Pops Mensah-Bonsu signed. Together with Arroyo and Macvan, the squad soldiered on, winning four of five home games in the regular season and then won four of their last five Top 16 games to make a historic appearance in the Euroleague playoffs. In the end, Barcelona proved too strong and swept the best-of-five series. Then Galatasaray turned its attention to the Turkish playoffs. The team ousted Besiktas and Banvit to set up a classic finals series against Fenerbahce. Each team held serve with home wins through the first six games, but due to off-court matters, Galatasaray chose not to appear for Game 7 and forfeited its shot at the title. Nonetheless, by virtue of reaching the finals, the team was back in the Euroleague for a second straight season.

Galatasaray won its first three home games in the 2014-15 Euroleague and Arroyo scored 24 points in the regular season finale, a victory over Olympiacos, to return to the Top 16. Two wins in the first three Top 16 games was a promising start, but the bottom dropped out and Galatasaray finished the Top 16 with 11 straight losses. The team also slumped into the Turkish playoffs with six losses in its last eight games before finishing eighth and taking on Fenerbahce in the finals. After losing Game 1, Sinan Guler scored 20 in an overtime victory to tie the series. However Fenerbahce won the series in three games.

Galatasaray returned to the Eurocup this season with a squad built to go deep. Errick McCollum, Stephane Lasme and Blake Schilb were among the marquee additions who led Galatasaray through the regular season and Last 32 atop its groups. Those results proved vital as the team won decisive second-leg contests in both the eighthfinals and quarterfinals to get where it stands today; after winning the semifinals opener, Galatasaray is on the verge of a place in the Eurocup Finals – and potentially a return to the Euroleague. From year to year, Galatasaray is proving that it belongs among the elite clubs in Europe.