ISTANBUL (Euroleague) - The city where east meets west is one of the basketball centers of the world.
Istanbul played host to the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the fans in the Sinan Erdem Dome watched as their national team went unbeaten en route to the Final before falling to the United States.
The silver medal was a great success.
Hopes were high that one of Istanbul’s clubs, Fenerbahce Ulker, would bring glory to Turkey this year in the Euroleague and for good reason.
The team appointed Simone Pianigiani as coach and signed some of the stars from his old team, Montepaschi Siena.
Fener won the Turkish Cup with Australia international David Andersen named MVP of the event, but Pianigiani, who missed out on that success due to illness, parted ways with the club not long after.
The team is unlikely to advance from the Top 16 in the Euroleague.
After Thursday night’s heavy defeat at Pianigiani’s former team, Montepaschi, Fener are 2-7.
Another club in Istanbul is making sure the spotlight is on Turkey, though.
Anadolu Efes are a surprising 7-1 heading into Friday night’s game at Panathinaikos (5-3).
Oktay Mahmuti, the Efes coach, seems to be pulling all the right strings and many a player from national sides in Europe are contributing.
Turkey international Kerem Tunceri moved past Nikos Zisis last week for sole possession of 10th place on the Euroleague’s career list of assists with 487.
Tunceri played on the silver-medal winning Turkey side in 2010.
Other Turkey players include Semih Erden, Kerem Gonlum, Sinan Guler, Dogus Balbay and Ermal Kuqo.
Kuqo didn’t play in 2010 but is a link to one of Turkey’s other successful sides, the one that finished sixth at the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
The team has former Los Angeles Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic of Slovenia, Serbia forward Dusko Savanovic and Croatia center Stanko Barac.
Efes also have Uruguay’s best-known player, big man Esteban Batista.
And very importantly, Efes have made good signings of non-European players in guards Jordan Farmar and Jamon Lucas.
Both will face a major test in the backcourt at Pana, who have Greens great Dimitris Diamantidis of Greece and Roko Ukic of Croatia.
"We have recently played good basketball and fight on the court," Mahmuti said.
"As a result, we climbed to the top of the group.
"But including the Panathinaikos game, there are six more games to fight, so nothing is finished yet.
"If we win in Athens, we will have a big advantage."
Diamantidis, meanwhile, continues to make headlines in numerous ways on the court.
He needs three more blocks to become the first guard in competition history to swat 100 shots.
The point guard is also about to equal former CKSA Moscow and Russia star J.R. Holden for the most starts for one team in Euroleague history.
Holden started 164 games in his 189 CSKA appearances while Diamantidis has 163 starts among his 185 games for Pana.
Most important of all for Diamantidis and Holden is that both were champions for their respective clubs, and countries.
Diamantidis was instrumental in Greece’s run to the EuroBasket 2005 title and also played in his country’s famous Semi-Final triumph over the United States at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
Holden played for the Russia team that captured a surprise gold medal at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain.
He hit the game-winning shot in the waning seconds.