On the heels of a historic season in which Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul made history by conquering the 7DAYS EuroCup, the club will compete in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague for the third time in four years. However, a steep price was paid after winning the title with many of the teams biggest stars being snatched up by other clubs. New head coach Ahmet Caki inherits a squad with only seven returnees who accounted for just 28% of the team's points scored in the EuroCup a year ago. Accordingly, the eight newcomers will have big shoes to fill. Ray McCallum will run the show at point guard with sharpshooter Jon Diebler and the hard-driving Markel Brown alongside him. The frontcourt is fully reloaded with Berk Demir, Jeremy Evans and Zanis Peiners. Veteran center Oguz Savas technically belongs on this lost since he was not with the team last season, but he did suit up for Darussafaka from 2015 through 2017. Working in the team's favor is that all but Brown, Evans and Peiners have previous EuroLeague experience.
McCallum made his EuroLeague debut last season with Unicaja Malaga and stood out for his ability to get to the basket and his strong defense. Teams will have a tough time double-teaming McCallum as he has shown his ability to find the open man. One player no one will consciously leave open is Diebler, who is among the elite shooters in the sport. Stanton Kidd first arrived last season as a heady, do-it-all small forward and has since branded his name into club lore with a last-second three-pointer that lifted Darussafaka over FC Bayern Munich in Game 1 of the EuroCup Semifinals. Brown may be a EuroLeague rookie, but he did get a taste of top European competition with Khimki Moscow Region two years ago. Best known for his explosiveness and dunking ability, Brown is also a tenacious defender and has extended his shooting range to be effective from downtown, too. Guards Kartal Ozmizrak, Dogus Ozdemiroglu and Muhammed Baygul and small forward Okben Ulubay were all part of the rotation last season; Ozdemiroglu even started both games of the EuroCup Finals! Ozmizrak can help with his ball-handling, Ozdemiroglu plays aggressive defense, Baygul is a lights-out shooter and Ulubay's mature all-around game allows him to be effective in almost any lineup. Look for Mert Akay, the youngest player on the team at age 18, to soak up experience for the future.
The Darussafaka frontline boasts a great many weapons with varying playing styles. Peiners is a blossoming power forward with an inside-outside game whose career was derailed early on due to irregular heartbeats. With the situation under control, he produced a dynamite season in the EuroCup last season for Lietkabelis Panevezys and will try to prove himself in the EuroLeague. Evans, the second-oldest player on the team at age 30, will debut in the EuroLeague after seven NBA seasons. He plays above-the-rim player and could be a high-impact contributor on the boards at both ends. Berk Demir, 23, arrives from Anadolu Efes and will look to maximize his knack for rebounding. Micheal Eric is the intimidator of the bunch, both for his physical presence and show-stopping blocked shots. Eric is also a highlight-reel dunker, whose moves can change a game in an instant. With 13 EuroLeague seasons under his belt, old-school center Savas may be just as important for his leadership and experience as he is for his work in the paint. Emircan Kosut has great speed for such a big man (2.16 meters) and will change or block his fair share of shots when on the floor.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Diebler is the most accurate three-point shooter in EuroLeague history (51.5%) and he will look to further distance himself from the pack with Darussafaka. However elite shooters need their teammates to help them get the best looks and the man carrying most of that weight may be McCallum. Though often viewed as a scorer, McCallum is the son of a coach and not only knows what it takes to win, he understands how to break down a defense. Teams will be hard-pressed to stop McCallum with the ball when Diebler and co. are stretching the floor and the battery of bigs are looking for alley-oops. Coaches love working with a point guard like McCallum and if he finds common language and chemistry quickly with Caki, the shooters and the big guys, the talent is on the roster for another special season.
The preseason will be of utmost importance to Darussafaka, even more so than most teams, as a new head coach tries to build chemistry with a mostly new squad that itself is trying to find common ground. On paper, this season's Darussafaka squad has what you need to win in the EuroLeague: size, speed, experience, athleticism, outside shooting, tough defenders, leaders and winners. The question that must be answered is how quickly can they all come together to be better than the sum of their parts and challenge for a spot in the top half of the standings. Darussafaka made history by doing so just two years ago, but only two current players were on that roster – Ulubay and Savas – and neither appeared in the playoffs. We will soon see if this squad has what it takes to get there again.