He may not yet be a household name among European basketball fans, but young center Furkan Aldemir of Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul is certainly well known to his Turkish Airlines Euroleague opponents as an up-and-coming force in both rebounding and shot-blocking. At just 23 years old, Aldemir is the best per-minute rebounder still playing in the competition this season and two weeks ago matched the second-most blocks in a single game in Top 16 history.
Aldemir looks like a sure bet to continue tradition of rebounding specialists that come from Turkey. One, retired forward Mirsad Turkcan, is the Euroleague's all-time rebounding leader with 1,287 boards. Another, Kerem Gonlum of Anadolu Efes Istanbul, recently became one of only eight players in Euroleague history to surpass 1,000 rebounds for his career.
Aldemir is clearly following their footsteps. This season, he is pulling down 6.2 rebounds per game, including 2.6 on the offensive glass, in less than 17 minutes of playing time off the bench. In addition, he now leads the Top 16 in blocked shots, with 1.6 per night, doing his part for Galatasaray in its race to reach the playoffs from Group F.
Back when he was starting his professional career, as an 18-year old playing for Pinar Karsiyaka, he already had memorable performances in the Turkish League, collecting 16 points and 14 rebounds against Fenerbahce Ulker, or 16 and 15, respectively, against Anadolu Efes. On the continental scene, he made his name at the 2011 European U20 Championship in Bilbao, Spain, making the all-tournament with an astonishing 15.9 boards per game. He had double-digit rebounds in eight of nine games in that tournament, including back-to-back totals of 25 and 23 in a pair of elimination-round games. Almost half of his average, 7.7 rebounds per game, came on the offensive glass.
Even though he was already known as Mr. Rebound as a teenager, it is hard for Aldemir to explain how he got so good at it.
"I did not learn it. Everybody asks me how you get 25 rebounds. I tell them I don't know," Aldemir admits. "God gave me that talent. I tried to always get rebounds, and always to get offensive rebounds."
In that summer of 2011 he transferred from Pinar Karsiyaka to Galatasaray, and helped his new team make history. Galatasaray reached the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for the first time this century by winning the qualifying rounds in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Aldemir had a big part in team's success. In the opening game of that tournament, he wasted no time in showing that he belonged, with 11 points and 9 rebounds just one month after he had turned 20.
"I was nervous, it was my first game in the Euroleague. I wanted to do my best," Aldemir recalls. "I did not count my rebounds and my points. I could have grabbed another rebound for a double-double, but that was not important for me."
Galatasaray went on to beat Asvel Basket and Lietuvos Rytas, earning a place among Euroleague's elite after more than two decades away. And Aldemir was there in his Euroleague rookie season, playing in the competition he always dreamt of playing, and making his presence felt. He finished the season ranked seventh in per-minute rebounds, averaging 4.8 off the bench in 17 minutes per night. Most importantly, those rebounds helped Galatasaray go from the qualifying rounds to the brink of the playoffs, only losing that chance in a tie-breaker to eventual champion Olympiacos in the final game of the Top 16.
Last season, Aldemir ranked among the best per-minute rebounders in the Eurocup, and this season he took his performance to another level in his second Euroleague season. Not only does he own the best per-minute rebounding stats midway through the Top 16, but he ranks seventh in average offensive rebounds (2.63) and 11th in total rebounds (6.15), all in less than 17 minutes per game.
At this pace, by the end of this season, Aldemir might surpass 200 total rebounds after only two seasons in the competition. Earlier this season, he set his Euroleague career-high with 16 rebounds against Stelmet Zielona Gora. It's not out of the question that one day Aldemir might challenge rebounding records, including Turkcan's personal best of 23 rebounds, or even the Euroleague record of 24 set by Antonis Fotsis of Panathinaikos Athens.
"When I was younger I always watched Kerem Gonlum and Mirsad Turkcan. I want to maybe break Turkcan's record," Aldemir laughs, knowing that Turkcan holds four out of five best rebounding performances in Euroleague history. "I always watched him to learn how to get in position for rebounding, and I try to do that on the court."