In his eighth season with Anadolu Efes Istanbul, Dogus Balbay is the player everyone identifies with his current club. Balbay will turn 30 midway through this season and has played his whole professional career with the Turkish powerhouse. After joining Fenerbahce as a kid, Balbay went to the United States to play for Brewster Academy and the University of Texas before returning to his hometown of Istanbul in 2011 to start his pro career with Efes. A member of the Turkish national team, Balbay has helped Efes win two Turkish Cup titles, in 2015 and 2018. Balbay brings experience and intensity to Efes, and already this season, he has hit a game-winning shot, boosting the team's fortunes. Follow his blog as he tells us all about his life in Istanbul and what's going on at Efes, all season long!
We had a good start of the season, and now we come off a big road win against Gran Canaria. It was the longest trip of the season; it took us pretty much 11 or 12 hours to get there. We flew to Barcelona and there was a three-hour layover before we got onto a second flight to Gran Canaria. The time zone is different there – Gran Canaria is three hours behind Istanbul – so this is why we got there two days before the game. In the EuroLeague, we usually travel the day before the game, but this time, because of the time difference, we traveled a day earlier. We arrived in Gran Canaria close to 10 p.m. and went straight to practice because we had to adjust to a new time zone and avoid jet lag. It was already 1 a.m. Istanbul time but we needed to adjust to the time zone, so it was a short and sweet practice: no tape, no contact. It was one of the toughest places to play. Gran Canaria is a good team, and we had watched them before, especially against CSKA. It was a close game and they led in the first half, so we knew how dangerous they could be. Going into the game, we were aware of that. It was a very tough game, with ups and downs, but we managed to win it with a crucial contribution from Krunoslav Simon. Even when we had lost Shane Larkin, we still managed to win the game. Each road win in the EuroLeague is crucial for us.
"Buzzer-beaters are very exciting. I had the luck to hit one in Khimki, and then the next week Mike James hit one to beat us."
We had really close games in the last three weeks, all on the road. We won twice – at Khimki and Gran Canaria – and lost once, in Milan. It has been a very close, very exciting EuroLeague this season! Each possession, each ball has its own value. You realize how important is to take good care of the ball and not turn it over too much, how critical it is to make good decisions each time, because every mistake you make matters at the end of the game, and maybe we will end up regretting it. All of these EuroLeague road games were very close. You have to take care of the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. If you manage to do that, you win games, but in those three games, anyone had a chance to win. We know that every mistake we make can cost us a game. It is really fun to be on the court in these close games. I guess watching them on TV or in the stands is much harder for EuroLeague fans, but being there and living the moment is really fun.
We won the game in Khimki, as I said, and I made the game-winning shot. If you look closely, Coach Ataman was going to put Simon in so that he could shoot a three-pointer. We thought we could use Simon, a great clutch player, but in the end Coach decided not to and put me in the game along with Rodrigue [Beaubois] and Shane [Larkin]. Obviously, one of us was going to bring the ball down, play isolation and try to go to the basket to tie the game, or maybe take a three. When Rodrigue got the ball, my man, the guy who was guarding me – I think it was Alexey Shved – helped on Rodrigue a little bit, kind of double-teaming him. I knew right away that if Rodrigue passed me the ball, I was going to shoot it. I didn't have time to drive and go for a layup, even when my man had gone to a double-team. That was the only thing in my mind – if Rodrigue passed me the ball, I knew I had to shoot. The shot went in and it was a really nice moment for us.
As soon as I made the shot, I was checking the clock because there was some time left. I was trying to tell my teammates to play defense! We didn't even celebrate too much after the shot because we knew we still had to play defense for one second to win the game. The referees also went to the table to check the clock. We managed to win that game and it was a very, very nice moment. We were up by 12 points at some point in that game, but they are a very experienced team and came back. In basketball, buzzer-beaters are very exciting. I had the luck to hit one in Khimki, and then the next week Mike James hit one to beat us, pretty much the same shot. It happens in basketball!
"These next three EuroLeague games will tell us where we are in this competition."
We've already got four wins and things are looking much better for us than last season. It is a great feeling to have the habit of winning. And we have earned that back. We are winning games at home and on the road, and are feeling good. It is especially important to keep winning at home, because being strong on our home court is the key to being very competitive. We come off a difficult season and I can say we are hungrier now, ready to keep winning. We are more experienced and, in a good way, we are a very stubborn team. That is what allowed us to beat Fenerbahce at home. We were down by 16 but came back and beat them. Fenerbahce is a tough opponent to play against and I don't think many teams are able to do that. That shows we have great character. These are good signs at the beginning of the season, what we are doing right now. We have to continue and build on this. We have goals on defense and offense and have to try to keep doing better by improving at both ends.
We will play four of the next five games at home – and all of them in Istanbul. We go against Panathinaikos, which is also 4-2, at home this week. Then, there is a double week in which will play Maccabi at home and Darussafaka on the road, but here in Istanbul. These next three EuroLeague games will tell us where we are in this competition. We can be 7-2 if everything goes well, but can also get the opposite results. We cannot make mistakes in these games, which will tell us exactly where we are and where we can go. Our fans will be there for us, I am sure. Their support is very important for us; they give us energy and power. We feel more comfortable and confident when they are behind us. Winning games obviously attracts all Efes fans to come to more games and fill the stands. As long as we win, they will keep coming to support us, we know that. I think we will have bigger attendance. Our last home game was the comeback win against Fenerbahce and I am sure that any Efes fans who saw that game will be back to help us! See you at the Sinan Erdem Dome!