| Going into the final week of the Top 16, the highest-rated player of the phase so far and one of the Euroleague's very top performers all decade is out of the Quarterfinal Playoffs picture. Mirsad Turkcan of Fenerbahce Ulker is not out of fighting spirit, however. Turkcan was in an Istanbul hospital on Tuesday so that doctors could check the head cut that he suffered during Fenerbahce's weekend victory in the great Istanbul derby with Efes Pilsen, which had won 19 games in a row domestically until then. The cut required nine stitches, but when Fenerbahce takes the floor on Wednesday for an otherwise meaningless game against Montepaschi Siena, Turkcan plans to be there. The holder of almost every rebounding record since 2000, Turkcan wants something for Fenerbahce much as he wants every ball that bounces off the rim. "What we want is respect for Fenerbahce, and to get that your team has to first have self-respect," Turkcan told Euroleague.net "Coach Tanjevic and we who are veterans know the difference between finishing the Top 16 with one or with two wins. So this I think of as a quite important game for us. We want another victory, to win respect for ourselves and to win a Top 16 home game for our fans."
Mirsad, you would prefer to be going to the playoffs, but as the Euroleague season ends for your team, how do you feel the Fenerbahce project is coming along?
"We have had lots of trouble this year. For example, in the summer we lost one of our most important guys under the basket, Omer Asik, a guy who can do everything. We also had trouble with our biggest signing, Gordan Giricek, who missed the first 10 or 11 games, and after tried to come back for the last two or three games even though he still needed time to recover. In the Top 16, our group had the best one-two combination in all the groups, CSKA and Siena. And we faced them first, CSKA at home and Siena on the road, so it could not have been tougher. Of course, there are young guys on our team who need one or two more years to get the respect of everyone. They need to keep working their hardest and these kinds of difficulties we have seen this this season will help them become successful in the Euroleague soon. We had a goal to repeat our trip to the playoffs from last season, and if we had been healthy, who knows? But this is basketball and I just think the injuries kept us back. It was a success to reach the Top 16 and to surprise Cibona at their court. Now I just hope Fenerbahce can build on that in the future."
You were always a Fenerbahce fan when you were younger. How much does it mean to you now to wear that uniform the last couple years?
"It's really special to me. When you support a team and then have the chance to play there, it's a pleasure. And like I said, I think that in the next years, Fenerbahce will be doing lots of better things in European basketball. We have a big sponsor in Ulker, we have great fans, and now they are going to build a big basketball complex, one of the best in Europe. So I think the future looks good here."
Head coach Bogdan Tanjevic came in to head a project full of young players and a few key veterans. Did you expect to be successful in these early stages of the project?
"With Coach Tanjevic, we won last year's Turkish championship and made the Euroleague playoffs for the first time. That is big success, but the people from Fenerbahce always want something more. This year, we thought we could do better in the Euroleague, and as I mentioned, the injuries stopped us some. But we have the chance to be champion for the third time in a row in Turkey, and if we do that I think the fans can be happy with this season, too."
You are one of the veterans in that project. What do you see for the future of guys like Semih Erden, Oguz Savas and, although he didn't play this year, Omer Asik?
"I think that, after Partizan maybe, Fenerbahce has the best young players in Europe. After a few years of playing, they will find the right way. They need to have the more experienced guys to help them, because they don't know enough yet how to play big and important games. It's not a question of their talent, but their age. They are great guys, great workers and even though they all have dreams of the NBA that they grew up with, I think they need to stay in Fenerbahce together. I think the Euroleague now is almost catching the NBA in quality of basketball, and this is the right time and the right league for these great young players of Fenerbahce."
What role does Coach Tanjevic give you in helping the young big men, in particular?
"I just try to help them by speaking with them about what I do and how things were for me at their age. I talk to them about rebounding, for sure, and other things. But I recognize that times change and things aren't exactly the same as 12 years ago, when I played for Efes Pilsen as a teenager."
This time last year the team was going to the playoffs, but you had missed much of the Top 16 with an injury. Does not making the playoffs this time feel like a step back for you and the team?
"Of course, it's a disappointment for me. Last year, we had a little better luck with the group we had in the Top 16. You know, it's really hard to skip over CSKA and Siena. We started with such a tough group, and then even though we had a big win on the road, when we lost the next home game to Cibona, all our chances were lost. It's a disappointment, but I hope to get more chances like this in the future."
Despite your age, 32 going on 33, you lead the player rankings for the Top 16. You are feeling young again after the injury problems a year ago?
"I had a really good preparation last summer, before this season, with my conditioning coach. Before the season started, I knew I felt good and it continued except for a couple of small injuries. I feel great now. Coach Tanjevic has helped by playing me less in some of the Turkish championship games. I also lost a few kilogrames, from 115 or so this time last year, to 109 now. But I am confident mentally, too, because when a team has injuries like we did, someone needs to step up and fight. I am a veteran and the captain, so I wanted that responsibility to help us get through a difficult situation."
Do you notice all the rebounding records you are accumulating?
"As I tell both my coaches and the young players on our team, when I take rebounds I feel much more pleasure than when I am getting only points. To see some of the big Euroleague stars whose names are with mine, to see my name around theirs, makes me very proud, yes. But the focus is to fight for every single ball to help my team in that way. If I do that, the records will come."
Montepasch knocked Fenerbahce out of the playoffs last season. Although you have nothing to win in Wednesday's final Last 16 game, how much do you want to beat them now?
"What we want is respect for Fenerbahce, and to get that your team has to first have self-respect. Coach Tanjevic and we who are veterans know the difference between finishing the Top 16 with one or with two wins. So this I think of as a quite important game for us. We want another victory, to win respect for ourselves and to win a Top 16 home game for our fans. For those reasons, I will play with these stitches in my head and we will try to beat Siena."
What are your goals at this stage of your career?
"If I take care of myself, I can play at the same level as now for - I don't know - the next three years or so. Here in Turkey, I have done everything I can do, winning the championships, the Turkish Cups.When I was young, with Efes Pilsen, we won the Korac Cup. I also played in Russia, America and Italy in my career. I have been to the Final Four with my Euroleague teams three times. For my career, the only thing I feel I am missing is the Euroleague trophy. If I get the opportunity to have the kind of team that can win the Euroleague, I would be very happy to try that. It would be important to me after all the titles and the records to have the biggest one, too, at the end of my career. I am very happy at Fenerbahce, of course, but for me it would mean a lot to have the chance at a Euroleague title again."