It took Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul center Ahmet Duverioglu just three years to go from a virtually unknown Jordanian basketball player to become a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion. He may have reached great heights in near-record time, but Duverioglu took a long journey to get there.
Duverioglu, 26, was born in Istanbul to a Turkish mother and Jordanian father and raised in the latter's homeland in the northern town of Al-Mafraq, near the border with Syria. Sports were not a pursuit in the Duverioglu - or as the family was known in Jordan, Al-Dwairi - household.
"I come from a family of doctors," Duverioglu explained and he wasn't exaggerating. "My big brother is a doctor, my twin is a doctor, my mom and dad are doctors."
He played soccer in the streets with friends and played other sports at school, noting: "I always liked to play sports, I liked to play basketball, sometimes football, volleyball, swimming."
Duverioglu was introduced to basketball by his big brother who played a little, but Ahmet did not play in any organized framework until his mid-teens.
"I come from a family of doctors."
"I started to play basketball when I was 15 or 16," he said, "but you could actually say that I didn't really start to play until I was 21 and I came to Efes, because in Jordan, basketball is not that big, it’s not an important sport."
When Duverioglu first gave organized basketball a try, he first played at school and was good enough to get the attention of the junior national team coaches. To progress on the court, he needed to travel.
"When I started to play, all the Jordanian players were better than me, but I wanted to get better. Every day I went 160 kilometers there and back for practices in Amman," he recalled. "In my city, we had nothing, so I went to the capital city. Those 80-kilometer trips were very difficult, but they gave me the patience to work hard to follow my dream."
Duverioglu was just 16 years old when he joined Zain, which was the strongest team in Jordan at the time. After one season, he moved to Al Riyadi Amman for one season and then played two for Applied Science University, also in the Jordanian capital, which he led to back-to-back Jordanian championships. At this point, the 20-year old knew that to become a basketball professional, he would have to leave the country.
First, he went to Serbia and trained for one month with Mega Vizura. In that time, Anadolu Efes Istanbul made Duverioglu a multi-year offer, which he quickly accepted. It seemed like his dreams were coming true. Duverioglu was assigned to play his first season on loan at Pertevniyal before joining the full Efes squad for the 2015-16 campaign. Despite his vast potential, Duverioglu saw only limited playing time. And then, his contract was terminated.
Duverioglu said he isn't exactly sure what happened. It may have been “money issues” or “something with the agency."
Either way, it would prove to be a blessing. Once he was a free player, Fenerbahce came calling.
"Every day I went 160 kilometers there and back for practices in Amman."
"It was the team that I supported when I was a kid, so it was good for me," Duverioglu summed up. His family rooted for Fenerbahce mostly in soccer, but it was the family team, so he was delighted to get the opportunity.
"I came from a small place, from Asia, from a small country, from Jordan," he continued. "In a couple of years, I came to Fenerbahce, one of the biggest clubs in Europe, with one of the best coaches and best players.
"It was not easy to adjust, but I tried to adjust as fast as I can and of course, my teammates, the coaches, everyone helped me a lot to get where I am now. This is just the beginning. I have to improve more and more every year."
Coach Obradovic brought his new center along slowly. Duverioglu played in just nine EuroLeague games in 2016-17 while mostly getting his feet wet with Fenerbahce in the Turkish League. However, he did have the unique experience of playing the final minute of the championship game at Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Dome as Fenerbahce won the EuroLeague title for the first time.
By Year 2, he was already a regular part of the rotation and a part-time starter for the defending champs. Obradovic inserted Duverioglu into the starting lineup for both games at the Final Four in Belgrade and he stunned Real Madrid in the championship game with 8 points early in the first quarter to stake Fenerbahce to a 10-15 lead, though ultimately would win the game and championship, 85-50.
When he dons the Fenerbahce uniform, Duverioglu is a role player expected to do the dirty work. He rebounds, sets picks and plays aggressive defense. However, the big man has spent many a summer wearing the Jordanian national team jersey, including at the 2019 Basketball World Cup.
There he made noise with a monster 34-point, 9-rebound effort in his team’s first game against the Dominican Republic. While for some that type of game on the world stage would be something they beat their chest about, Duverioglu's (or Al-Dwairi as he is called when he plays for Jordan) memories of that night are not great.
"My teammates helped me a lot to get those points, but we didn’t win the game. So it’s not important how many points I scored. What’s important is if we win or lose." he said modestly.
Even though Jordan did not advance in the tournament, Duverioglu believes their appearance in the tournament was good for basketball in the country. He said people followed the games in Jordan, although not like they did in other countries: "They know what's happening, but it’s not like it is in Europe, not like it is in Turkey."
Duverioglu recoiled a bit when asked if he is Jordan's best player. "I don’t want to say that, but I improved this year and I want to be one of the best," he answered. "I can't say that I’m the best, but I want to be the best."
"I can't say that I’m the best, but I want to be the best."
Even though representing Jordan is near and dear to his heart, Duverioglu also explained that the longer he's been in Istanbul, the more it feels like home.
"Today I feel more Turkish because I live in Turkey. Okay, I play for the Jordanian national team, but I live in Turkey and around Turkish culture,” he explained. "I feel both, sometimes I feel more Turkish and sometimes I feel more Jordanian."
When it comes to his personal growth with Fenerbahce, Duverioglu quickly reverted to the team-oriented player he under the tutelage of Coach Zeljko Obradovic.
"I want to help the team as much as I can. I want to be aggressive, I want to do what I can to help the team win," he summed up.
It’s been a rough season for Fenerbahce and Duverioglu so far. Duverioglu was sidelined for six weeks with an injury before returning last week. And the team is currently toiling in the bottom half of the standings. However, they are within striking distance of the playoff zone and with Duverioglu back and providing muscle in the paint, another race to the Final Four is not out of the question.