The Club Scene: Turk Telekom Ankara

Dec 06, 2018 by Print
The Club Scene: Turk Telekom Ankara

In almost three decades, Turk Telekom Ankara has done a little bit of everything – reaching finals, winning a title, playing in many different European club competitions, and even going down to the Turkish second division. The club stayed in the Turkish elite for 25 consecutive seasons and is now back at that level ready to make some noise. It is also Turk Telekom's fourth appearance in the EuroCup. Back in 2007-08, in arguably the club's best season ever, it was eliminated in the playoffs despite a 10-2 overall record. Some of the best Turkish players have worn Turk Telekom's jersey, but it was home also to many well-rounded, experienced foreign stars. Turk Telekom is now battling for a Top 16 spot, trying to make sure that its fans consider the 2018-19 season one to be remembered, too.

Founded in 1954 as a multi-sports club, Turk Telekom Genclik ve Spor Kulubu (GSK), it changed its name to PTT before opening its basketball section in 1991. The club made its official debut in the Turkish elite for the 1991-92 season, led by super scorer Mustafa Secerlioglu and a solid foreign duo like David Russell and Sergey Popov. PTT finished 9-17 that season, avoiding relegation. Edward Horton and local star Alper Yilmaz joined PTT the following season, reaching the 1992-93 playoffs after finishing in seventh place with a much-improved 19-11 record. PTT lost against Besiktas Istanbul 1-3 in the playoffs. The team's rise continued in the 1993-94 season. PTT won 15 of its first 16 games to finish the regular season first overall with a 27-3 record, with Mitch Smith and Viktor Berechnoi as its stars. PTT won its first playoffs round ever, downing Oyak Renault 3-1 in the quarterfinals, but lost against Ulkerspor 2-3 in the semis.

Its quick success allowed the club to make its debut in European club competitions in the 1994-95 season, surviving a couple of preliminary rounds in the Korac Cup before being swept by French side Cholet Basket. Back in Turkey, PTT ranked fourth overall in the Turkish regular season but did not go past the quarterfinals. PTT returned to the Korac Cup in 1995-96 but did not go past the second preliminary round. Efes Pilsen went on to win that competition, becoming the first Turkish team in any sport to lift a continental trophy. Meanwhile, PTT took a step back in the Turkish League, finishing eighth with a 14-16 record despite having a reliable foreign duo in Rickie Winslow and Mirko Milicevic. The club changed its name to Turk Telekom PTT before the start of the 1996-97 season, becoming just Turk Telekom in 1998.

Turk Telekom signed a young, promising head coach named Ergin Ataman who would later become the most successful one in Turkish basketball history, leading three different teams to Turkish League titles, lifting two European trophies – the 2002 Saporta Cup with Montepaschi Siena and the 2016 7DAYS EuroCup with Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul – and giving Turkey its first Final Four qualifier, Anadolu Efes (the team he coaches again now) in 2000. Ataman's first season with the club -- which kept Winslow, Yilmaz, Milicevic and Richard Coffey as its main players -- was truly successful. Turk Telekom was really competitive in the 1996-97 Saporta Cup before stepping out in the quarterfinals against PSG Basket Racing of France. The club was second in the Turkish League regular season with a 24-6 record, defeating Tuborg (3-0) and Ulkersport (3-2, winning Game 5 at home 70-63 behind 19 points by Kemal Tunceri) to reach the finals against Efes. Since both teams exchanged regular season wins, the finals started 1-1 but Efes went on to win the next three games and lift the trophy. By reaching the final, Turk Telekom earned the right to make its EuroLeague debut in the 1997-98 season.

Rising to the challenge, Turk Telekom landed power forward Richard Scott and kept the core of its team. It beat teams like PAOK, Estudiantes and Split in the first group stage, finishing it with a 5-5 record, but a six-game losing streak ended all chances to make the playoffs. Playing the EuroLeague for the first time made Turk Telekom lose track in its domestic competition, falling to sixth place in the regular season and stepping down in the quarterfinals. The club kept fighting hard in European competitions, reaching the 1998-99 Saporta Cup eighthfinals and the 1999-2000 Korac Cup quarterfinals, before losing against Partizan Belgrade and Limoges CSP, respectively. Murat Evliyaoglu, Goran Jagodnik and Jerry McCullough were its best players in those two years, in which Turk Telekom returned to the Turkish League playoffs but did not go past the quarterfinals.

With Acie Earl as its superstar, Turk Telekom bounced back in the 2000-01 season, ranking fourth in the Turkish regular season with a 20-6 record and losing against soon-to-be champ Ulkerspor in the semifinals. Back in the semifinals in 2003, Ulkerspor again stood on its way despite solid contributions from Ivica Jurkovic and Semsettin Bas. Meanwhile, Turk Telekom reached the playoffs in the 2002 Saporta Cup and the 2004 FIBA Europe League but was eliminated in the first round, losing to Panionios of Greece and Nahariya of Israel, respectively. Turk Telekom made its EuroCup debut in the 2004-05 season, led by Willie Deane and Sasa Stefanovic, but quickly dropped out with a 0-10 record.

When the team returned to the EuroCup in the 2007-08 season, it was the other way around. Turk Telekom came off a strong 2006-07 season, in which Erwin Dudley and Jan Jagla took the club back to the Turkish League semifinals. Then the club made history in golden letters by lifting its first trophy, the 2007-08 Turkish Cup, led by Khalid El-Amin and Erwin Dudley, and coached by Ercument Sunter. That victory tasted sweeter because four previous trips to the final -- in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2003 -- had ended in disappointment. This time, Turk Telekom gave its opponents no chance, downing Oyak Renault 80-61 behind 25 points from El-Amin, who earned MVP honors. The club had defeated Banvit and Fenerbahce to reach the title game. Turk Telekom also did well in the EuroCup, finishing the regular season with a 9-1 record, becoming the only team to down eventual champion DKV Joventut that season, by 96-94 in Ankara with 33 points from El-Amin. Turk Telekom, however, lost in the Last 32 against UNICS Kazan, which won the two-way series on points differential. The club bounced back in the Turkish League, upsetting regular-season champion Besiktas Istanbul in the semifinals to reach the title series for the second time ever. Fenerbahce Ulker prevented the team from winning the Turkish double, but the 2007-08 season was a historical won for Turk Telekom, arguably its best ever.

Turk Telekom made it to the EuroCup Last 16 in both the 2008-09 and the 2009-10 seasons, in which the club also returned to the Turkish League playoffs. Quality, experienced players like Serkan Erdogan, the late Michael Wright, Roderick Blakney, Huseyin Besok and Demond Mallet wore the club's jersey in those two seasons. The team went on to miss the Turkish League playoffs for four consecutive seasons, from 2011 to 2014, and also stopped competing in Europe. Josh Carter and Kristaps Valters helped Turk Telekom return to the Turkish League playoffs in the 2014-15 season, losing in the quarterfinals against Anadolu Efes, but everything went wrong a year later. The club finished the 2015-16 Turkish regular season with a 7-23 record and was relegated to the second division after 25 years in the country's elite. It took the club two years to return where it always belonged. An eighth-place finish in the 2016-17 Turkish second division left the team with little chance in the playoffs. The club fully bounced back in the 2017-18 season, getting promoted to the Turkish League with a league-best 29-5 record. T.J. Campbell and veterans Kaya Peker and Ender Arslan, who are still with the team now, were some of the players who made it possible.

The club accepted a wild card to participate in the 2018-19 EuroCup and played a big role in the off-season market, landing players like Vladimir Stimac, Reggie Redding and Sylven Landesberg. Despite a 0-3 start, Turk Telekom bounced back and now has a 3-5 record in Regular Season Group C, safe in the knowledge it will qualify for the Top 16 if it wins its two remaining games. Expect this historical team to keep taking giant steps, as Ankara is a basketball city and will be behind its trademark team through thick and thin!