Fenerbahce Istanbul's first trip to the United States could not have started much better. The team made history by defeating the Brooklyn Nets 96-101 on Monday night at Barclays Center in its first game on the Euroleague Basketball World Tour 2015 just 48 hours after making the long journey from Istanbul. But there would be little time to bask in the glow of Monday's glory. Instead, the team went right back to practice with another game in America on tap Friday.
On a journey that includes several long travel days, Wednesday may have been the toughest for the team. Unable to secure a direct flight between New York City and Oklahoma City – the team’s two destinations on its legs of the tour– or a quick connecting flight the two cities, Fenerbahce flew from New York to Dallas and then hired a bus to take the team to Oklahoma, where it will face the local NBA side on Friday night.
Though weary from the trip, spirits remain high inside the Fenerbahce squad. The trip has been successful on all fronts so far; in addition to winning in Brooklyn, the team has had extra time to practice, shop and tour in New York and the long travel periods have allowed for extra team-bonding and chemistry-building.
Forward Gigi Datome, one of the team's most important off-season signings, spoke very modestly about Monday’s victory. "Our target was to just compete in the game, because this was only our second game together with the whole team," Datome explained. "And even so, we were without Bobby Dixon and also Ricky Hickman, who won’t be back until December. It was a good opportunity to compete at a high level.
"When you win, it’s always better. We played good from the beginning, despite committing too many turnovers and allowing them too many offensive rebounds. We led for most of the game and I was sure could have even won by more than 10 points. But for us it was important just to play good basketball."
The victory, which was Fenerbahce's second-ever over an NBA team and its first on American soil, instead pointed to something else at Barclays Center that brought his team joy. "There were so many Fenerbahce flags there that it looked like we were playing in Turkey," Datome exclaimed. "I know that maybe seeing Fenerbahce may not be so exciting for some Nets fans, but it was amazing how many Turkish supporters were there. It was a nice feeling for us to make these Turkish fans happy."
The morning after, Fenerbahce went right back to work to continue building for the season to come. Tuesday's schedule started with a team practice and concluded with a dinner together with all of the Fenerbahce delegation. In between, the players had some free time to get out and about New York. Datome said many of the players did some shopping; he found a music store and purchased items for his new home in Istanbul. Others did some sightseeing, including a group that ventured out to the heart of Manhattan at Times Square.
With Friday’s game looming, Datome said the team had yet to review game film from the game in Brooklyn, though he expected that to be part of Thursday's schedule. However he was already fairly aware of what things need to be on Fenerbahce's agenda in the coming days. "We need to work on improving our timing and our spacing," Datome explained. "And to learn better our system on defense, how to help each other and how to communicate."
At Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday, Fenerbahce has a chance to make history by becoming the first Turkish Airlines Euroleague team to sweep a two-game trip against NBA teams in North America. Even so, Datome said the club remains focused on the big picture. "Still we will play with the same target. Our goal for the season is not to win these two games, but to compete for championships," he said. Addressing the competition for Friday, Datome added "We know it will be a competitive game. Oklahoma City has two superstars in [Russell] Westbrook and [Kevin Durant] and also [Serge] Ibaka is returning. It will be a great challenge for everybody."