He may not be a player that fills a box score, but Sinan Guler of Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul is the type of player that coaches simply love to have on the floor. He is the one that hustles every minute of playing time he gets, sets the tone with high-energy defense, sets up transition baskets, and harasses the opposition’s top scorers. He is also a player who appreciates being in such a position after taking a long detour to reach the level where he has been successfully playing and contributing for years, now.
A Euroleague regular, and also a world silver-medalist with the Turkish national team, Guler is in his first year with Galatasaray. He previously spent five great years with crosstown rival Anadolu Efes and reached the Top 16 in each of the last four seasons, including a trip to the playoffs last April when Efes lost to eventual champ Olympiacos Piraeus in five games. At the end of this season, the 30-year-old guard will be approaching his 100th career game in Euroleague, a remarkable feat for a player who mainly comes off the bench and is only in his fifth full Euroleague season.
He made his Euroleague debut in 2008-09 as a 25-year old, after taking a longer journey to the Europe’s premier competition than most. He did not play for Turkey in the youth categories, and after growing up with Besiktas JK and getting a brief taste of professional basketball there at 18 years of age, Guler took off across the Atlantic to play NAIA college basketball in the United States. When he came back home four years later, he needed to work his way up again.
It would have been surprising if basketball wasn’t Sinan’s choice, however. His father, Necati, was a player and coach at Ulker. Older brother, Muratcan, preceded him as a Euroleague player by seven years, and their mother also played basketball before getting married. Little Sinan grew up with basketballs all around him. “I never really had a choice, and I didn’t really want any other choice to begin with”, Guler said.
Like many other kids, Sinan’s interest in playing sports started by following his older brother and his father. The two brothers practically grew up in the old gym where their father used to play. When brother Muratcan started playing, Sinan started going to his practices with him and his teammates.
However. despite years of practicing and growing up in a basketball family, Guler was not sure whether he would pursue a career in basketball until he was in his early 20s. He came out of youth selections at Besiktas, but felt he was not ready to take a step to the next level.
“I wasn’t fully at my physical capacity”, he explains. “I had potential, but I was not feeling confidant while on the court. I started playing professionally, and I was undersized and inexperienced. So I decided to take a different route.”
Guler’s thinking was that while he was getting a university degree, he would get better at basketball and find a way to keep playing the sport. Basketball was his fundamental motivation in going to the United States, but it was questionable whether playing for such small schools as Salt Lake Community College and Carroll College, could help his basketball progress. But taking one step at the time was Guler’s exact plan.
“At Salt Lake Community College, playing on a team with more scoring talent than mine, helped me build up confidence on the defensive side of the game. That also helped me a lot when I moved to Montana, where I became a leader on the team right away. I could do many things on the court on both sides of the ball.”
Not only by playing, but by living abroad and experiencing different culture helped Guler reach maturity. He felt ready to go pro, but coming home and fitting right into the Turkish League again wasn’t as easy. It took him two years to get where he hoped to get.
“When I first came back, I had to go through the stage where I had to prove myself again and show I was worthy of doing good things,” Guler remembered.
When he returned to Turkey, he worked his way up again, through Darrusafaka and Besiktas, before joining Efes in 2008. He went from the Turkish University national team and playing at the 2007 World University Games, to the Turkey’s B-team in 2009, and to the national team playing at the EuroBasket in Poland later that same year.
By that time, he already had one Euroleague season under his belt, and also won the Turkish League title with Efes. It seemed like everything finally came together. “That’s the path we tried to draw. There were certain steps I had to take to reach certain goals, and when I look back, I took the right steps to come to this point.”
In all his decisions that led to his rise, family always had an input. “I try to share everything with three other members of family. They have insights on the game, and if I make a mistake that they can see, we can share these thoughts together. It is important for me that I have two good examples, basically two idols, who walked in my path that I can follow and maybe take it to another level.”
To another level he did take it. When the highest moment in Turkish basketball history came, a silver-medal finish at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, it was Sinan who was on the floor at Sinan Erdem Arena in Istanbul. But even after achieving something his family and the entire country will always honor, Guler remained with clear goals, always wanting more and getting better.
“Overwhelming situation comes once in a while, especially winning championship with Efes, or silver medal with Turkey. But when you sit down and take a look at things, you realize there are more things to do, and more improvements you can get. And that’s what I try to do.”