Bucks' Ilyasova honed competitive edge with Turkish National Team
By Truman Reed
"I tried to use the time during the lockout," Ersan Ilyasova said. "I had a real good opportunity overseas to play basketball. I tried to use the time during the lockout to keep in shape, use the opportunity to play basketball every day and improve myself."
A number of the Milwaukee Bucks put in plenty of time on the basketball court during the offseason and lockout of 2011.
Few, if any, of the Bucks, though, played more meaningful basketball during that span than Ersan Ilyasova.
The 24-year-old native of Turkey signed a contract Aug. 3 with Anadolu Efes, a Turkish professional team. He played eight Euroleague games before competing with the Turkish National Team in EuroBasket 2011, the 37th men's European Basketball Championship, held by FIBA Europe from Aug. 31 through Sept. 18 in Lithuania.
"I tried to use the time during the lockout," Ilyasova said. "I had a real good opportunity overseas to play basketball. I tried to use the time during the lockout to keep in shape, use the opportunity to play basketball every day and improve myself."
Eurobasket 2011 was the largest sporting event in the history of the Baltic States, drawing 24 national teams for 90 games of competition.
Spain won the title for the second consecutive tournament after defeating France 98–85 in the final.
Ilyasova's Turkish teammates included fellow National Basketball Association players Hedo Turkoglu of the Orlando Magic, Omer Asik of the Chicago Bulls and Enes Kanter of the Utah Jazz.
The Turks opened with a 79-56 victory over Portugal in which Ilyasova came up with six points and eight rebounds, and he totaled four points and one rebound in a 90-61 win over the United Kingdom.
The 24-year-old forward's third Eurobasket 2011 game was his best as he collected 20 points and four rebounds in a 57-68 loss to Lithuania. He came back with 14 points and four boards in an 84-83 loss to Poland,
Turkey's finest hour in the tournament came in a 75-68 triumph over a previously undefeated Spain team that featured NBAers Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rudy Fernandez of the Denver Nuggets, Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors and rookie Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with former NBA player Juan Carlos Navarro. Ilyasova contributed six points and a game-high 11 rebounds to Turkey's victory.
Ilyasova achieved a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in a 68-64 Round Two loss to a France contingent that included Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, Boris Diaw of the Charlotte Bobcats, Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.
He totaled four points and seven rebounds in Turkey's 73-67 loss to a Germany team that featured Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Chris Kaman of the New Orleans Hornets, then had 10 points and seven rebounds as Turkey lost 68-67 to a Serbia team led by former NBA center Nenad Krstic.
Ilyasova finished ninth among Eurobasket rebounders with an average of 6.5 rpg.
Once the lockout ended and Ilyasova returned to Milwaukee to begin his fourth NBA season, he said his extended offseason wasn't dramatically different from his previous ones.
"It's almost the same as it's always been," Ilyasova said. "In other years, I've been playing for the Turkish National Team right before our training camp. Our European team practices twice a day, so I shouldn't have any conditioning problems. It's not a huge adjustment for me."
"I enjoy having the chance to go overseas and play. A lot of guys in the NBA don't have the opportunity to do that."
Ilyasova, married and the father of two, did admit that traveling back and forth between Europe and the United States requires some family transition.
"Because we have two kids, it's hard to travel, but it's part of the job," he said. "Wherever I go, the family will follow. You know me. We'll stay together.
"They'd just adjusted to a warm place and then they had to come back here, which is basically our home."
Ilyasova has called Milwaukee home for six years. He has averaged 8.8 ppg. and 5.2 rpg. during his NBA career with the Bucks, including 9.5 ppg. and 6.1 rpg. in 60 games last season.
"I've been with the Bucks basically since I was 18," he said. "I'm looking forward to being here until my contract is over. Last year, I had the concussion and our team had a lot of injuries. I'm looking forward to putting that behind us. It's a new season. Our first priority is to start winning some games and then develop into a playoff team."
Ilyasova was intrigued by the latest collection of teammates surrounding him, but he entered his fourth NBA season with a consistent approach.
"We've changed players each year," he said. "The coaches have to adjust. We have a lot of skilled offensive players now. Most of the other teams expect us to be one of the better defensive teams. We'll see how things work for us.
"I don't ask about my role. I just stay prepared and stay focused. I'll play whatever position the coach wants me to play on the court."