Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
Adidas Next Generation Tournament
Cevher Ozer, Besiktas Cola Turka
Dec 22, 2008
by Gokhan Ture, Istanbul
Despite his team's struggles so far in the Eurocup regular season, a dynamic power forward is tearing up the courts for Besiktas Cola Turka. At 25 years old, Cevher Ozer has exploded onto the scene this season after playing a reserve role in the past and has quickly become his team's top option in the paint. And Ozer wasn't even penciled in as the starter before the season began. But when roster problems developed early on and there was an opportunity, he grabbed it with two hands like he has so many rebounds since then. In the process, he has proven to be Besiktas's top player and one of the most efficient in the Eurocup this season, ranking sixth in average performance index rating. Ozer's 17.3 points per game in the Eurocup is nearly five times what he averaged last season and his 7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.8 steals per game are also the best of his career. His team may be eliminated, but keep an eye on Cevher Ozer.
Ozer was hoping for a breakout season this year when he decided to change uniform numbers over the summer. He has been known to change numbers from time to time, playing with Nos. 7 and 22 for Besiktas and Nos. 5 and 8 for Darussafaka in the ULEB Cup in the past. This year he went for No. 41, like one of the players he models himself after, German national team superstar Dirk Nowitzki. At 2.05 meters, he doesn't quite have Nowitzki's size, but Ozer's inside-outside game and three-point shooting have become his calling cards. "I decided to change my uniform number because I have great admiration for Dirk Nowitzki," Ozer told Eurocupbasketball.com. "I think it brings good luck to me."
Ozer began to develop as a serious athlete at age 13, but it wasn't basketball he was playing then. He and several classmates created a handball team. Oddly enough, it was a football coach at school in his hometown Manisa who saw the tall talent playing one day and spoke to the youth team coach of the Vestel Manisa basketball club. Soon enough, Ozer was suiting up on the hardwood. He remained there until the 1996-97 season, when he joined the junior team at Turk Telekom of Ankara. He spent five seasons with the Ankara side before heading to Darussafaka Istanbul, where he started his professional career in 2001. He shined in his first season with Darussafaka and was tabbed as a promising prospect. Ozer played for Dacka until 2006, when he moved to Besiktas.
His play also caught the eye of Turkish national coach Bogdan Tanjevic, who granted the forward an invite to the preparations for the 2006 World Championships. In fact, Ozer was in the starting lineup when the Turkish national team played the USA for the first time in 2005. "It was the best experience of my life," he says now. "Many thanks to coach Bogdan Tanjevic for trusting and believing in me, like he always does with young talents. I think Semih Erden, a young talent like me, was one of the starters in that game, too. It's an unbelievable feeling to play against the NBA stars, who I had only watched before on TV. My heart was beating like a drum. But after the start of the game, everything turned to a regular match. I overcame my emotions and focused on winning the game."
One reason that Ozer's breakthrough this season is even more impress impressive is that local coaches in Turkey traditionally give the power forward position to foreign players, leaving few opportunities for player like Ozer to grow. "In my country, teams always sign foreign players at the power forward position," Ozer said. "But things changed this season unnaturally for Besiktas Cola Turka. The financial problems at the beginning of the season caused some of the players in our roster to leave the club. And I found myself full of responsibility all of a sudden. But this is what I prepared myself for. I was ready to handle the pressure because I worked really hard during the preseason. I'm always optimistic."
Ozer was a reserve on last season's strong Besiktas side that reached the ULEB Cup Final Eight. He didn't play as much as he would have liked, but he used the experience to improve not only his game, but that of his teammates. "I was behind great players like Kaya Peker, Predrag Drobnjak, Preston Shumpert and Onur Aydin, and that was a perfect chance for me to challenge them and get better," he says. "I improved my basketball with the help of good practices against those talents and now I'm having a good season for that reason. I also have another point of view, different than many players. If I practice well an challenge my teammate at the same position, then he performs well. Then, if he performs the way he should, it affects the team positively."
Ozer's positive outlook was tested this season by a tough ride in the Eurocup. Despite the off-court issues that shook up the Besiktas roster, he is still dwelling on the two tough home losses the team has suffered in the Eurocup. "I'm still sad about the loss that we had in the first game of the Eurocup season," he says. "We lost a game that we led by 16 points. Then we also had a very bad loss against BC Khimki of Russia. We wasted our chances."
Despite those disappointments, Ozer remains optimistic, and credits his positive attitude to the help of an unusual source. "I always spent my time with my dog, Eddie, especially if I'm nervous," Ozer says. "He helps me a lot to recover my shape mentally. He turns my negative energy to positive." With Eddie at his side, fans around Europe will want to watch as Cevher Ozer keeps improving into one of the top power forwards on the continent.