Pelicans' Omer Asik is vital cog for Turkish national team

by Jim Eichenhofer

Like his brand-new NBA teammate Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik is filling a larger-than-ever role for his national team this summer. In 2010, when Turkey hosted the FIBA world championship and surprised many by earning a silver medal, the 7-foot, 255-pounder was his national team’s fourth-leading scorer. He logged a modest 19.0 minutes per game, averaging 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds. Four years later, Asik’s prominence in Turkey’s lineup has grown substantially.

Much like Davis’ situation on Team USA, the departure of proven NBA players has made Asik an even more valuable and critical performer for his country. The three players on Turkey’s 2010 national team who topped Asik in scoring average – forward Hedo Turkoglu, forward Ersan Ilyasova and center Semih Erden – are NBA veterans, but for various reasons, none of them are on Turkey’s current 12-player roster. The 35-year-old Turkoglu announced his retirement from international competition earlier this year. Another current pro Turkey expected to have, Utah Jazz three-year center Enes Kanter, was sidelined in June by injury and also will miss the FIBA World Cup.

What remains is a Turkey team ranked seventh in the world that still has several noteworthy talents, but less experience than some of Team USA’s biggest threats. Three of Asik’s Turkey teammates have been NBA draft picks, including forward Cenk Akyol (59th pick in ’05 by Atlanta), forward Emir Preldzic (57th in ’09 by Phoenix) and center Furkan Aldemir (53rd in '12 by Clippers), although none of them have come to North America yet to debut in the league.

USA and Turkey are the only teams in Group C of the FIBA World Cup in the top 15 of the current world rankings. New Zealand is 19th, followed by the Dominican Republic (26), Finland (39) and Ukraine (45). Each of the six teams will play each other once from Aug. 30-Sept. 4, including Sunday’s matchup between USA and Turkey (2:30 p.m., ESPN) that will pit Davis and Asik.