Turkey Hungry For First Women's Medal in Basketball
Turkey may have won all three first round games at the U20 European Championship for Women, but Friday's quarter-finals is all that matters for Turkish coach Aziz Akkaya.
Turkey lost in the quarters of the past two U20 women events after finishing fourth in 2007. And Akkaya desperately wants to lead Turkey to their first ever women's European medal - senior or youth competition.
"I really hope that we can reach the last eight. It doesn't matter if we win these three (first round) games. The main day is Friday. That's what's important to us," said Akkaya after Turkey's exciting victory over Lithuania on Saturday.
The come-back victory over Lithuania gives Turkey a 2-0 record heading into the qualifying round starting on Monday with up-coming games against Italy, Serbia and Spain. One victory could be enough to get Akkaya's women back into the quarters.
"This time we want to win in the quarter-finals," said Akkaya.
The closest Turkey have come to a medal in women's youth tournaments was fourth place at the U20 women in 2007 and 2000 and the U16 women in 2005.
"We are on a quest for our first women's Euro medal. We really hope to finally win a medal at a tournament. This is very important for us," said Tugce Canitez, who scored 29 points against Lithuania including the game-winning three-point play with 7.4 seconds left.
"Beating Lithuania is a big step for us."
Canitez said Turkey must continue to play great defense and have a strong team spirit if they want to reach the final eight.
"Serbia and Spain are very good teams and it will be a great challenge for us," said the 19-year-old Canitez, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks.
The power forward's 18.7 points per game rank her third in the tournament while she leads all players with 14.0 rebounds a contest.
And Canitez will very soon also play a crucial role in the Turkey senior team, according to Akkaya.
The coach said the Turkish federation is trying to get Canitez to play for the senior national team for the EuroBasket Women qualification this summer when Turkey will take on Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Montenegro in Group C.
Canitez however is due to head back to the United States in August as she returns to North Idaho College for her sophomore season. The Konak native is hoping to transfer to a bigger university after next season and needs extra help for her grades, Akkaya said.
The coach said Canitez - and Turkish women's basketball - would be better served if she came back to Turkey.
"It's her decision to go to play in the United States but I told her she should play in turkey. In the U.S., she may be stronger but fundamentally I am sure that Europe is better than the United States," said Akkaya.
"So I think she needs to come back and play here. We need her for our senior team and Turkish women's basketball needs her."
He added: "She will be an important player for us for a long time.
Canitez could eventually help Turkey to their first women's youth medal and women's senior team medal.