“I know what you are saying,” Yurtseven said. “But at that point, I played in a club where it was super competitive to get into. So everybody has to, personally, keep getting better. No matter what you think your limit is, you’re coached to give 200 percent in what you’re doing. It’s the competition, the competitive drive that everybody has. … That’s the nature of the sport.”
Yurtseven knows what it’s like to play basketball for work, to get up every day and practice because that’s the job. He knows what it’s like to play for compensation abroad, and he knows what it’s like to play in the NCAA tournament, as he did as a sophomore at North Carolina State in 2018. He knows what it’s like to work patiently, alone in a gym late at night after his teammates have finished playing a game he could only sit and watch, after transferring from N.C. State at the end of the 2017-18 season.
On Wednesday, when Georgetown opens its third season under Coach Patrick Ewing against Mount St. Mary’s, Yurtseven will put all of that work experience to use in his first college basketball game since March 15, 2018.
The highly anticipated arrival of the 7-foot, 264-pound center from Istanbul is a large part of why expectations for the Hoyas have risen this season. Many college basketball observers agree Georgetown has the talent and experience to make its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2015.
“I don't see anyone in the country that can do the things that [Yurtseven] can do at that position, being, shoot the ball from the perimeter, also post up, defend, rebound,” Ewing said. “So I expect a lot from him."
‘On court, he’s a dog’
Yurtseven’s reasons for coming to Georgetown were simple: An experienced former NBA coach was steering the ship, and by the time Yurtseven would be eligible to play, Jessie Govan would be gone, leaving a vacancy at center.
“It just felt like all the pieces clicked, and also Patrick Ewing — yeah,” Yurtseven said. “A great motive to come here."
Ewing expects the 21-year-old to slot well into Govan’s former role. It’s no small task: Govan led the Hoyas in scoring for the past two years and was a first-team All-Big East selection last season, but Yurtseven has enough potential that he warranted a preseason all-Big East honorable mention last month, a nod of respect for a player who hasn’t played in the conference.
As a sophomore starter with the Wolfpack, Yurtseven averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds and shot 57.2 percent from the field and 50 percent on three-point attempts.
When CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg observed him at N.C. State, what stood out was the center’s proficiency.
“His mobility, his touch, his skill level as a big guy,” Kellogg said in a recent interview. “All of that was really impressive to me two seasons ago."
Since then, Yurtseven has worked to add power to his game. That’s where he and Govan differ, his Georgetown teammates say: Govan was a little bit more of a finesse player, and point guard James Akinjo called Yurtseven “a bruiser.”
In his year off, Yurtseven said he has been developing his one-on-one skills and added a mid-post game to his repertoire. On offense, he likes to attack, going at a defender and trying to draw fouls.
Senior Jagan Mosely said Yurtseven’s gentle nature is at odds with the player he is in games. He expects the center to bring some of the aggression the Hoyas sorely lacked last season, especially on defense.
“You can see he’s soft-spoken, how he’s answering questions, but on court, he’s a dog,” Mosely said. “It’s not easy to talk to him, but I’m able to calm him down sometimes, just tell him to chill. … If you yell, ‘Omer!’ he might not shut down. I have to walk up to him, talk to him, calm him down. If something’s going wrong, you’re going to hear from Omer. He’s not just going to let things slide, because he’s been to the tournament, he knows what we need to do. So whatever he says, I’ll take it.”
Knocking on the door
Yurtseven needed about two years to adjust to college basketball after playing professionally in his home country. He was with the Turkish club Fenerbahce, where Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter played in his younger days, but didn’t sign with an agent or sign a contract, so the NCAA ruled that the price to play at N.C. State was a nine-game suspension and a mandatory donation of $1,000 to the charity of his choice.
The transition to college after playing with men in their late twenties was like whiplash.
“It’s a little bit more intense here because everyone is so young and the ceiling is unknown to so many players,” Yurtseven said. “Over here, players are way more tough and the refs kind of allow it a little bit more … but I played against 26-, 28-year-olds and I had a great coach there who’s, like, known as a genius, and I learned a lot from him and from all those older players that I played against.”
Georgetown is counting on that experience; Central Florida graduate transfer Terrell Allen, a DeMatha graduate, is the only other player on the roster who has played in the NCAA tournament. Georgetown also returns all three of its all-Big East freshman team selections from last season in Akinjo, Mac McClung and Josh LeBlanc.
The combination of Yurtseven’s talent and experience with those three players makes Kellogg optimistic about the Hoyas this year.
“On paper, I look at Georgetown as having the ingredients,” Kellogg said. “Now you have to bring that together and start winning in a consistent way, and that’s TBD, for a lot of teams. … They’re knocking on the door of being an NCAA tournament team. I’d be surprised if they maybe didn’t crash through that door this year.”