Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven had a pre-Draft interview with the Charlotte Hornets (among many other teams) this past Tuesday. Yurtseven played his freshman and sophomore seasons at North Carolina State and his senior season at Georgetown after playing with Fenerbahçe in Turkey’s Basketball Super League from 2013 to 2016. The skilled big man has extensive playing experience in multiple different leagues, even appearing in multiple pre-season games against NBA teams as a teenager.
Part one of his Hornets prospect scouting report will be the talk that we had, which covered his interview with the Hornets, what skills he’s been working on throughout the pre-Draft process, his past experiences with Fenerbahçe, and his adjustment and experiences coming from Turkey to the USA, and part two, coming tomorrow, will be the usual scouting report.
Chase: Charlotte currently has no young players at center; have you thought about how you’d fit in with young Hornets like Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington, Miles Bridges and Malik Monk?
Ömer: “Yeah, that was actually something I brought up when they asked me if I knew anything about their roster and how I could contribute to it.”
Chase: I know you probably went through a lengthy time period where you couldn’t play basketball earlier in the year, but are there any specific skills you’ve been working on lately?
Ömer: Yeah, definitely. Around April, I started with about 10-15 workouts a week and for a month that’s what I did. We were shooting about 5,000 shots (per day) then, and then we picked it up to 6,000 and now 10,000 in the past few months. It’s been mostly stepping back to the NBA 3-point line and getting used to that range. Initially, I wouldn’t say I was shooting very well. I was around 40 percent. We’d run every “game situation,” like pick-and-pops to the wing, stepping up to the slot, being the trailer, spot-ups in the corner, everything. Now, I’m shooting about 75-80 percent. Things are clicking way better. It was just about getting my shot to be more efficient; whether that’s putting more legs into the shot, or keeping the ball tighter to your body so you can have that power transfer from your legs. Simple things like that have helped a lot.
My lateral quickness has been a big focus, because it was in question throughout my college career. Last year at Georgetown, I did a decent job, but I could’ve done way better. I was 275 pounds during the year there, but now I’m at 260 with 10 percent body fat. I’ve been working with my trainer since April, we’ve been isolating focus on specific areas that I have to improve to be able to guard one-through-five in the league.
Chase: Do you think it will be difficult to show that to teams at the combine this year, since there aren’t many in-person events and you have to send in a “workout video” rather than doing drills in front of teams?
Ömer: I would’ve definitely preferred in-person workouts because I’ve been blessed in this time period to have the team around me that I do; my skills trainer and conditioning trainer, we’ve just been in the gym and I don’t think a lot of players had that opportunity. If I had the opportunity in-person, I could show that I can shoot the three-ball much better than I did at Georgetown, because it was required of me to be more of an inside presence and roll to the rim instead of popping out in a pick-and-roll situation. I could’ve showcased a lot of the other things I can do, but I’ll still make the best of it, showcase how well I can shoot, and hopefully that will help me.
Chase: What do you think goes into a “good fit” when you’re looking for a team, and what do you think teams are looking for from you to be a “good fit” for them?
Ömer: I think any team could use a skilled big, and that’s my biggest strength; being a scorer and a good shooter. Like I said, my lateral quickness was in question, but since I’ve worked on it and improved the parts of my body that go into being quick, like your glute strength, ankle strength, calves, and quads. Cutting weight has also helped me, too. On both ends, I think I could be a benefactor for whoever drafts me.
Chase: Already having the size and length, adding the mobility to your game would kind of seem like a reflection of the bigs we’ve seen be successful in the playoffs right now, like Nikola Jokic or Nikola Vucevic, who are big guys but they can still move around in space and have touch around the rim. Every team wants a big like that now.
Ömer: Definitely, and I think you could go as far as Anthony Davis with how he steps out. My handles are definitely not at the level he’s at, but I think I can level with him on that eventually. His athletic ability is off the charts. That’s just hard work, and I’ve been working too. I’m slowly getting there. It’s a slow grind.
Chase: There are a fair amount of international prospects that are expected to be picked throughout the 2020 NBA Draft. How would you compare the international game to the American game, and what experiences would you, or others who have played overseas, have compared to guys who only played in high school or college in North America?
Ömer: Well, I would say they haven’t went through a transition like I did when I initially came to the United States; getting used to the language, basically the entire lifestyle. That’s the initial edge I’ll have over all the international guys, but also, having played pro overseas, I already have the experience that they’ve had at the top level. I’ve been in the ACC Tournament, and I’ve been in the top pro league in Europe.
The pro game in Europe was spread out, but I think the NBA is even more spread out compared to the EuroLeague. But, at the same time, in the NBA a lot of guys like to play isolation more. There aren’t that many examples in EuroLeague where guys take the ball and go one-on-one, but I realized that it’s way more common in college. In terms of the college offenses, the isolation play is what’s similar compared to the NBA.
Chase: You played in a pre-season game against the Nets when you were 17. That has to benefit you significantly compared to having that experience when you’re older. In that moment, do you remember what you were feeling or thinking?
Ömer: Initially, I actually played against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Turkey when they came for the NBA Global games, I think it was 2013 and I was 15 at the time. I played two and a half minutes at the end of the game, and it was just a crazy experience. At 16, the Spurs came to Turkey and I played them with my old team, Fenerbahçe. The next year, we went to the U.S. and played against the Nets and OKC. That year, I got my most minutes — I played 14 or 15 minutes against the Nets and then 12 to 14 against OKC. What I remember against the Nets is a put-back dunk I had. It was a crazy experience, and it also gave me a lot of confidence and added fuel to the fire that I need in order to make it to the league. I wanted to play at that level, and that was a big realization and amazing experience. It was crazy, to be honest, the level those teams were at. The Nets didn’t have any big men at that time besides Brook Lopez, and I never matched up against him. Against OKC, I went against Steven Adams, and he was just very strong compared to me, who was 17 and skinny at the time.
Chase: I’ve gotta ask you about the time you scored 91 points and grabbed 28 boards in a game with Fenerbahçe. That is the coolest personal fun-fact in the world. What did your shot chart look like for that game? Were you just bombing threes or bullying people inside?
Ömer: Both! I shot about 12 threes, and made about five or six. It was my last game wearing the Fenerbahçe uniform before I was gonna leave for NC State. My main focus was; I want to be the scoring champ. This is my last game, I wanna go out with a bang. I talked to my teammates and coach, and everyone agreed to make it happen because I needed to get to 56 to be the scoring champion of the tournament. I scored 48 in the first half, and I was like, ‘I wanna go to 100.’ When I was around 75, it was the last quarter and the other team started triple-teaming me so I would have to pass the ball and either quickly cut to the rim, or be the point guard and bring the ball up because otherwise they were not gonna let me have it. They started playing a bit dirty, but I remember I had seven or eight posters, a lot of mid-range jumpers, a lot of hooks, everything. It was an all-around game, the shot chart was all over the place.
Chase: I mean, you’ve gotta be able to do it all if you’re gonna put up 91 points in a game. How many assists did you have that day?
Ömer: Hah, I think I had three
Chase: Alright, that’s more than I expected.
Ömer: When they started quadruple-teaming — I don't know if that’s even a thing — I just had to kick it to the corner. One of my teammates was like, ‘why are we just giving the ball to him, I wanna score, too’ and I was like ‘dude, I’m trying to go for 100.’ It was a crazy experience.
Chase: Having played overseas and at two colleges, that has to help you come November when you get drafted by an unknown team and then have to acclimate to that locker room and bond with your teammates, right?
Ömer: Definitely. I have a degree now. I had to write so many essays that I don’t even know the number, so the language barrier is something I’ve gotten over. I even learned a lot about academic language; now I’m reading books, all in English. New players coming to the states won't have as easy of a time adjusting, so it’s an edge, but mostly just an experience that I’ve had and adversity that I’ve faced, but gotten past.
Chase: Were there any bits of advice you got about adjusting to life in the states from older Turkish NBA players that had already made the move?
Ömer: Not really, because many of them didn’t go to college and college is a different type of space compared to the NBA. In college, American players don't have to try as hard in class, but I had to learn how to write an essay. I’d never written an essay before, and now I have to write it in English. It was an adjustment. All the academic subjects like biology, math, every single class you can think of in a new language. And, I was a computer science major, so I had to learn a third language, Java, in English, which is my second language. I think all of those things made my situation and circumstances unique, so I don’t think I really could’ve asked for a lot of advice from people.
Chase: It sounds like you’ve been putting in a lot of work, both on and off the court, and I’m sure that those things will translate. I won’t keep you longer because I know you’re busy, but I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk to me for a bit. Best of luck with the draft, man.
Ömer: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.