On the Beat | Visit to Sixers Brings Korkmaz Closer to Dream
CAMDEN - First came the 11-hour flight. Then a 2.5-hour car ride from New York.
For Furkan Korkmaz, the half-day journey from Istanbul to Philadelphia has been well worth it.
Since arriving in the Delaware Valley last week, the 19-year old Korkmaz, whom the 76ers chose with the 26th pick in the 2016 draft, has been a resident gym rat of sorts at the team’s training complex. He’s jumped into optional workout sessions, hit the weight room for some strength-building exercises, and gotten more acquainted with members of the organization.
Korkmaz’s trip, in just about every way, has served as a relaxed, informal introduction -- to the franchise that holds his NBA rights, and the city and country where he one day hopes to ply his trade.
“My dream is to be NBA player, so I am very excited to be here,” Korkmaz said Monday, when he met with local reporters for the first time. “I see the facility, I have chance to meet with these guys, play with these guys. It’s really fun for me to be here, to see all these things.”
The Sixers, for their part, have been eager to get a longer look at Korkmaz up close, perhaps increasingly so given how well his fourth professional campaign went. In 41 appearances last season, he averaged 9.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 20.2 minutes per game. Encouragingly, the guard converted 46.6 percent of his total shots, and a career-best 43.7 percent of his 3-point tries (62 for 142).
Midway through the year, Korkmaz was loaned from Anadolu Efes, Dario Saric’s former team, to fellow Turkish Basketball Super League affiliate Banvit Basket. That’s when his output really started to pick up.
“When I moved team, I start to get confidence, I start to play good, and coach trusts me, all the players trust me,” said Korkmaz, whose final month of the season was highlighted by a pair of double-doubles.
During the inaugural Basketball Champions League international round robin, Korkmaz was named the event’s ‘Best Young Player.” He accounted for nearly 11 points and 5 rebounds during the competition.
“[Banvit] gave me this confidence, and I got the [award],” Korkmaz said, as he again deflected praise to his coaches and fellow players. “It is very good feeling, but I think most important thing is what you do as a team. If team is playing well, of course you play good, so I think that is the key.”
What type of skill set is Korkmaz capable of bringing to the court? For starters, at 6-foot-7, he boasts solid height for his position. On top of the upward-trending shooting numbers he’s turned in over the course of his career, Korkmaz also appears to be getting more comfortable handling the basketball. He attributes this development to the Banvit coaching staff divvying up backcourt duties between himself, and New Jersey-born Jordan Theodore, who played college basketball at Seton Hall.
So far, the Sixers seem to be pleased with Korkmaz’s progress.
“He’s a good one,” said Vince Rozman, the Sixers’ Senior Director of Basketball Operations. “We’re excited to have him. He has a lot of layers to his game, more than people think.
“He can put the ball on the floor a little bit, he’s a pretty good passer, he’s confident for how old he is. He had a good year.”
Now, the mission for Korkmaz, who started playing basketball at the age of 9, is to build on the past few months. Such was his rationale for taking the second trip of his life to the United States.
“When I come here, I just trying to fix my weakness,” said Korkmaz. “I think I can be in development better here because in Europe, game schedules you don’t have so many times to spend with your individual abilities, so I think here is more professional for that.”
The differences between NBA and European basketball are many, according to Korkmaz. The hardest adjustment, he said, is getting used to the prominent role of one-on-one play in the NBA.
Korkmaz also knows he needs to add muscle to his lanky 180-pound frame, a realization that he and the Sixers share. He subsequently has spent a good amount of his time here working on strength and conditioning.
“He’s young,” Rozman of Korkmaz. “He’s really young. His body needs to develop. A lot of it is just experience. But where he is right now, he’s in a good place.”
In addition to taking part in player-led on-court activities in Camden in recent days, Korkmaz has been hanging out with the team away from its headquarters, too. Last week, he was invited to the club’s boxing cross-training session at the Front Street Gym, and joined a group of Sixers who decided to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals together.
This week, Korkmaz is looking forward to catching up with Saric, once the Rookie of the Year candidate gets back in the area. They overlapped one season with Anadolu Efes, in 2015-2016.
“He’s been a good guy,” said Korkmaz. “I think he’s going to help me a lot.”
As for when Korkmaz’s Sixers practice gear will become a more permanent symbol of his affiliation with the team, that matter figures to be resolved at some point down the road. In the meantime, Korkmaz is focused on the present.
“Now I am here, and maybe my dreams is coming true,” said Korkmaz, who’s scheduled to fly home to Turkey Friday. “When you feel you part of something, NBA, it’s very exciting.”