| One of the great stories of the summer was the surge of excitement around Turkish basketball due to the World Championships being held in that country. Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of the heroes of Turkey's silver-medal performance, Efes Pilsen guard Kerem Tunceri, is having his best start ever in the Euroleague. Tunceri currently ranks ninth among Turkish Airlines Euroleague scorers with 15.3 points on average and sixth in steals with 2.3 per game. Most importantly, he has helped Efes bounce back from a double-overtime road loss in the season opener to win two games in a row and tie Panathinaikos for second place in Group D. Panathinaikos will host Efes on Thursday to break that tie, and after three close games, Tunceri believes his team has already learned what makes the difference between a narrow win and a narrow loss. "We have to play our main defense, our one-on-one defense, as well as possible," Tunceri told Euroleague.net. "If we do this, we can play with any opponent. But if we don't play that defense well, for sure we will have trouble with everybody. This was the main difference for the games we won."
Kerem, it was a special summer for you. Did the momentum and emotion carried over from the World Championships help you start the Euroleague season better than ever, statistically-speaking?
"You know, it's our system. Most years in Efes we had a different system, and our coaches wanted me to organize the team, I don't play a lot of pick-and-rolls, I'm not looking to score. But now, I'm a little bit free. OK, I am the point guard, so I am always looking for the other players. But when I play, if I'm feeling OK, I'm free to score or make passes. So I am a little more free in this regard."
How did Efes Pilsen bounce back from such a tough opening-game loss, in double-overtime at Olimpija?
"That was a very bad game for us. We had that game won. We made very bad mistakes at the end of the game. If we had won that game, we would be in a good position right now. But this is basketball, and anything can happen. We have to forget that game and play the rest of the season."
That game and the team's subsequent two home victories against Valencia and Milano have been close. What made the difference in those two close wins as opposed to the late loss in Ljubljana?
"We did a lot of good things in our last two games. One of the main keys has been our defense. We have to play our main defense, our one-on-one defense, as well as possible. If we do this, we can play with any opponent. But if we don't play that defense well, for sure we will have trouble with everybody. This was the main difference for the games we won."
In three Euroleague games so far, you've made 66% of your shots in action and all of your free throws. What's the explanation for such great accuracy?
"I am working hard. It starts with confidence, of course, but then it's a matter of hard work. I am coming before practice and staying after practice to work by myself. And if the shots are going in more, I would have to say that is the reason: hard work."
Your new coach, Velimir Perasovic, is one of the greatest shooters ever. Do you talk about the details of shooting with him?
"We are talking about all different things, really, not just shooting. My position is particular, as the point guard, so I have to lead the team, to be always concentrated on the entire team, and not just shooting. So with Coach Perasovic, we must talk about everything."
You have made the same number of two-point shots, 8, in three games so far this season as you did in all 15 Euroleague games last season. Is attempting more two-point shots a change coming from you, from Coach Perasovic, or both?
"It's both. I am not looking to score first. I am more concerned with moving the ball around in our offense, find the open man. And from that, all the scoring opportunities come. If they come to me, OK, I take them, but it's not that I am looking to score, only to take advantage when the opportunity comes to me."
You have played with Ender Arslan for many years not only in Efes, but also the national team. What kind of partnership is it between you two?
"We are so close. I am a little bit older than him. I act like a big brother to him. Between our time in Efes together and on the national team, we are very close and we have a lot of confidence in each other, and I think it will continue like that."
Of course, Efes is playing in a new arena, Sinam Erden Dome, where you and Turkey to won the silver medal just a couple months ago. How special is it for you to go back and play every Euroleague game there now?
"Of course it's a new gym. They made it great. And for me and the Turkish national team players, we had a lot of great moments there, and right now we are playing almost all games in that gym with the stands practically full, so it's great for us. Our Turkish basketball has come a long way. Football was always the first sport in Turkey, but now people are waiting for basketball, also, which of course makes us happy."
Does it feel like a homecourt advantage at the new arena yet?
"Turkish fans, of course, are pretty intense. When you are playing against the other rivals here in Turkey, like Fenerbahce or Besiktas, you feel the fans from the beginning to the end of the game. Our fans perhaps are not so crazy. They are coming to the games as basketball fans and maybe not doing so many crazy things. But day by day more and more of them are coming and with that our homecourt advantage will be there."