Girls’ Olympic mission not over

Girls’ Olympic mission not over

Çetin Cem Yılmaz - ISTANBUL
Girls’ Olympic mission not over

Turkish national women’s basketball team members participate a training session at the Abdi İpekçi Sports Hall in Istanbul. Turkey will meet Croatia, Czech Republic, USA, China and Angola in its group in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. DAILY NEWS photots, Emrah GÜREL

After making history by winning Olympic qualification, the Turkish national women’s basketball team says it will not settle for simply making an appearance at the London Games.

The team managed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in its history after surviving a tough qualification tournament last month, joining the national women’s volleyball team in ending a 52-year jinx. Since the 1960 Games in Rome, Turkey has not been represented in team sports.

“Two weeks ago we were really happy [to win the qualification tournament]. We felt like it was enough,” veteran center Nevriye Yılmaz told the Hürriyet Daily News. “It was like we would be just fine if we just went to London, participated in the opening ceremony, and returned. But now, that will not be enough.”

The team’s American center Quanitra Hollingsworth, who was granted Turkish citizenship earlier this year, says the team will not be satisfied with just making an appearance now.

“Our expectations are much higher than, say, the average fan,” Holingsworth said. “A lot of people are satisfied with simply making it to the Olympics, but we really want to go there and make some noise, to try to leave a mark.”

Bahar Çağlar, one of the younger members of the squad, does not hide her excitement either.

“The mood within the camp is really good,” she said. “When someone even mentions the word London, our eyes are beaming. Even the fact that we will take part in a parade at the stadium behind our flag is exciting.”

She also will not be satisfied with what the team has achieved so far.

“We came this far gradually: First the eliminations, then the European Championships, then Olympic qualification and now the Olympics,” she said. “We are a good team and we will play with a different concentration. I believe we will do well.”

Being pitted in a tough and versatile group, including four-time defending champions the United States, China, and Angola, along with solid Europeans Croatia and the Czech Republic, Turkey now hopes to advance to the quarter finals.

“Looking at the group, we feel we can finish in top four and advance to the quarter finals, and even make it to the semis … The world’s 12 best teams meet there.

Anything could happen,” Yılmaz said. “But on the other hand, we should bear in mind that we are one of the newcomers there. None of the players in this group have played in the Olympics or in the World Championships before. But we are preparing very well, we will see.”

Great expectations
Even though Turkey is a rookie in Olympic women’s basketball, it comes to London as the European runner-up after last year’s EuroBasket.

“I think we are in a position to be very successful,” Hollingsworth said. “Yes there are teams with different basketball styles, but that comes along with all different countries. As long as we play our game we should be fine.”

For Hollingsworth, playing against Team U.S. might be emotional.

“I can’t say right now, but I am pretty sure come game time there will be some feelings fluctuating,” she admitted. “Playing against those girls, who are all very talented, going against my own country ... But again I’m here, I have ‘Turkey’ across my chest and I am representing Turkey.”

No matter what its final position is, the Turkish national basketball team has already made history. Nevriye Yılmaz, the first Turk to play in the WNBA, says that this achievement will have a lasting legacy.
“In Turkey, most of families want their daughters to be volleyball players. Women’s volleyball has been successful in the last decade, but for us, it is different. It is this generation that introduced women’s basketball to the Turkish people,” Yılmaz said. “Now we are ready to hand over the flag and hopefully, more success will come.”