The Club Scene: Galatasaray C.C.

Nov 17, 2009 by Javier Gancedo, Print
The Club Scene:  Galatasaray C.C.

Galatasaray, Turkish champ 1985-86, Mehmet Baç, Michael Scearce, Mehmet Ali Tlabar, Cihat Levent, Turgay Demirel

Few teams all decade enjoyed a better Eurocup debut than Galatasaray Cafe Crown of Turkey, which reached the semifinals in 2008 despite having not played in European club competition for five years before that. Its amazing run in the 2007-08 ULEB Cup stands as the best European season in the club's history, but Galatasaray is ready to try to do better in the 2009-10 Eurocup. As a respected basketball team through eight decades, but also a signature sports club on the international level, Galatasaray has all the tradition necessary to succeed. Founded in 1905 in Istanbul, Galatasaray had the honor to introduce basketball into its country six years after that. Not only did Galatasaray become the team to beat in Turkey for several decades, but the club has always held basketball in high esteem. Its last golden age came in the mid-1980s, with consecutive Turkish League titles in 1985 and 1986, plus another in 1990. Galatasaray has not lifted an official trophy since 1995, however. With an interesting roster and its signature fighting spirit, the club is ready to do even better in its second Eurocup season.

Not only is Galatasaray one of the world's oldest sports clubs, but it helped to introduce basketball in the country early in the 20th century. In 1911, basketball started to be played in Turkey within the walls of the Galatasaray Lycee, the Istanbul high school from which the club takes its name. Ahmet Robenson, a physical education teacher in Galatasaray high school in 1911, was the key figure in that achievement. Robenson also became a Galatasaray S.K. president later and helped basketball to become very popular almost 100 years ago. Not happy with that, Robenson also introduced hockey and tennis to the country, plus was the football team's goalkeeper, winning the Istanbul League title in 1908. As in many sports in the country, Galatasaray is the 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 up to expectations and soon became a dominant force, however, winning four consecutive Istanbul League titles from 1933 to 1936. Galatasaray continued to dominate Turkish basketball, lifting the Istanbul League trophy as many as 14 consecutive times from 1941 to 1954. The Turkish League started in 1946 and Galatasaray became the reference team there, too, winning 11 titles between 1947 and 1966, including four consecutively from 1947 to 1950. Following its eighth Turkish League title in 1960, the club made its debut in European club competitions, taking part in the 1960-61 European Cup. Galatasaray swept Olympiacos in the first two-way round but lost in the eighthfinals against Hapoel Tel Aviv. The club was one point away from reaching the European club quarterfinals in 1964, but Steaua Bucuresti stood in its way to success.

Galatasaray, Turkish champ 1984-85 Galatasaray became a regular team in European club competitions in the 1960s and 1970s, not only in the European Cup but also in the newly Cup Winners' Cup, before it changed its name to Saporta Cup. Although it failed to reach the group stage in international competition, Galatasaray stayed competitive in its national competition. With Peter Simenov as its head coach, Galatasaray won another Turkish League title in 1969, followed by a Turkish Cup trophy in 1970. Several years of obscurity followed, however, as Galatasaray failed to keep fighting for trophies at home and stopped making it to European club competitions, too. Galatasaray bounced back in 1982, finishing fifth and earning the right to play the 1982-83 Korac Cup preliminary round, losing there against Hungarian side Zalaegerszegi on points differential. But Galatasaray fans did not have to wait too long to see their team get back to its glory days.

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, the current head of Turkish Basketball Federation, 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 downed Tofas and Cukurova Sanayi in the playoffs to make it to the best-of-three finals against archrivals Fenerbahce. Galatasaray registered a 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 downed 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 a 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.

Robert Hite, Cuneyt Erden - Galatasaray Cafe Crown - Final Eight Turin 2008The 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, losing against TDK Manresa. After that, Galatasaray remained a strongly competitive club in Turkey, becoming a perennial playoff team and making 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, Fatih Solak and Jeff Graves led 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 happened to be 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 much problems and then 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 club competitions since 2003. Not happy with that, Galatasaray knocked off Besiktas Cola Turka 60-61 in the quarterfinals on a game-winning triple by Erden before losing against eventual champion DKV Joventut 90-83 in the semifinals. Last 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, losing against Efes Pilsen. But Galatasaray earned the right to play the 2009-10 Eurocup, and now that it's here, hopes to keep raising its status in European club basketball. With an outstanding fan base and a club that knows what it takes to reach high, the sky could well be the only limit for Galatasaray in the upcoming 2009-10 Eurocup season.