ISTANBUL (FIBA Americas Championship/FIBA Basketball World Cup) – Turkey is a hotbed of basketball.
In recent times, the country has hosted the 2010 FIBA World Championship and this year, the Euroleague Final Four and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women were held there.
In 2014, Turkey will stage the FIBA World Championship for Women.
Turkish players have been drafted by NBA teams and several are competing in the American league now.
Outstanding players have found their way to Turkey to play club basketball and one of them is 29-year-old Sammy Mejia, a native New Yorker who is on the books of Banvit.
Led by former Turkey coach Orhun Ene, Banvit are trying to challenge the established powers in the Basketbol Ligi and the Eurocup and Mejia is a key man in the squad.
Wednesday night was one of his finest hours with the team.
He was named Co-MVP of the Week in the Eurocup following a dazzling performance against S.Olivers Baskets Wurzburg.
Mejia finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, four steals and a block as Banvit won 101-82.
International basketball has yet to see Mejia in action but that could change.
He is eligible to play for the Dominican Republic, the land of his grandparents.
“I've been trying to play for the Dominican Republic for the last couple of years but it's been very difficult,” Mejia said to FIBA.com.
“One year, I had a slight injury and I didn't want to take any risk and that summer, I was in the middle of trying to get a contract and I didn't want to go over there and God forbid, something happen.
“Then the following summer, I had a baby girl at the end of June.
“I understand what kind of commitment the national team takes and I know it's an honor for them to want me to play but I didn't want to give up my summer at home to be with my daughter for her first couple of months. I wanted to be there to help my wife.”
Mejia was a big name at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx and also the Storm King School, which is in Cornwall-on-Hudson in New York.
The 1.98m guard later played at DePaul University in Chicago and caught the eye of NBA clubs.
After being selected late in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, Mejia spent his first professional season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBDL.
He decided to leave and play in Europe.
Following spells with Pierrel Capo d'Orlando in Italy and AEL 1964 GS in Greece, Mejia started to make a big name for himself at Cholet Basket in France.
During that time, he competed in the Euroleague and once earned Player of the Week honors.
After a stint with CSKA Moscow last year, Mejia left for Banvit in Turkey and has been a perfect fit.
The Dominican Republic
Mejia says that if he were fortunate enough to represent the national team, he knows that he would fill a very important slot.
“I think I’d have to play as a naturalized player because I wasn't born in the Dominican Republic,” he said.
“I got a passport because my grandparents are from there.
“I would play as a naturalized citizen and they can only have one on the team, so if I’m able to play, I don't know if they would choose me or choose someone else.
“They only have one spot.”
Mejia could have helped the Dominicans the last two years, when they were led by University of Kentucky coach John Calipari and claimed a bronze medal at the FIBA Americas Championship (2011) and very nearly earned a place in the London Games but fell to Nigeria in the Final of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas (2012).
While he hasn’t played for the Dominicans, he has monitored their progress.
“Yes, I always keep up with them,” he said.
“It's exciting, especially now with Coach Cal.
“He's an exciting coach and I'm sure he has the country heading in the right direction. So any time you have a great coach like that organizing a team, there is always things to look up to and expectations that are there. I always keep up with them and I know a couple of the guys so I communicate with them from time to time.”
While the expectation is that Calipari will not continue to coach the national team, Mejia thinks he still could return to the helm.
“He said that he wasn’t going to coach last year but still ended up on the sidelines,” Mejia said.
“But that's the first thing (for the Dominican Republic Federation), the coach, because he decides what players he wants so we'll see who the coach is and we'll see what kind of players he wants.”
As Mejia comes from New York, he recently had the huge distraction of worrying about family and friends during Hurricane Sandy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for every county in New York and the hurricane wreaked havoc.
“My mother is there, one brother and a couple of my sisters,” Mejia said.
“Luckily, they're in the Bronx and it didn't hit the Bronx too bad but it was still a tough situation and I'm just fortunate and thankful that my family was able to get through that difficult time and nothing major happened.”
Mejia says that he was worried, though.
“I almost went home, honestly,” he said.
“I woke up one morning and it was all over the internet and they were showing pictures and I couldn't get hold of my parents and it was tough.
“There was no electricity and their cell phone batteries died and I couldn't reach anybody for about a day and a half.
“It was tough and I was contemplating going home just to see what was going on but luckily, they were able to get the electricity back and I was able to speak to my mom and dad and they were okay, and my sisters - everyone was okay. I stayed.”
Mejia is fully focused on the job at hand in Turkey right now but he is fully aware that some players in Europe have done so well in the past that NBA clubs have given them a chance to make their teams.
He hasn’t completely given up on his dream of playing professionally back in America.
“I mean, it's always there in the back of your mind as a player but I feel that at this point, I'm not young enough to be taking too many risks,” he said.
“I've been fortunate enough the last two years to find good teams and to put myself in good situations but for now, if an opportunity comes up, of course I'd be willing to.
“It's a dream to be in the best league in the world and you know, if a team comes knocking then for sure, I'd give it a shot.”
Banvit have the luxury of throwing an excellent Mejia at opponents for now.
Maybe next year in Caracas at the FIBA Americas Championship, the Dominican Republic will have Mejia, too.
“It's definitely been a little bit of a coincidence with bad luck in the past couple of years but I definitely intend to play for them at some point,” he said.
“It's a great honor and it's a pride that's inside of us as players to represent your country.
“There are only a certain select few they choose so hopefully at some point, it works out and I can represent my country.”