Merheba from Turkey,
After graduating from AU in May of 2012 with a degree in business administration from the Kogod School of Business, I went back home to L.A. and immediately hit the gym. I trained all summer and saw my hard work pay off.
I had a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers and was invited to play in several games with their D-League affiliate team against teams from Mexico. I instead signed to Istanbulspor, thus voiding any affiliation with the team.
The experience was still very worthwhile, as I learned a lot from my teammates and coaches. My agent worked all summer finding different teams that were interested in signing me. I attended a tryout in Florida with a team in Israel and had offers from teams in Hungary and Greece as well. My family, agent and I ultimately decided that Istanbulspor in Istanbul, Turkey was the best option for me.
I arrived in Istanbul in early September and have been having a great time since being here. The city is unlike any other city I have ever seen. Islam is the dominant religion in Turkey, so there are many mosques throughout the city. Prayers can be heard throughout the day over loudspeakers.
The streets are always packed with people.
Coming from L.A. and even going to school in D.C., I thought I would be used to traffic. The amount of cars in Istanbul, however, is unlike anything I have ever seen. It seems like drivers make their own rules when driving. From making 3 lanes out of 2 to driving on the wrong side of the road to pass cars, everything seems legal here. Because there is so much traffic, my teammates and I take a ferry twice a day to and from practice.
Half of Istanbul is in Europe, while the other part is in Asia. Most of my teammates and I live on the Asian side in Kadıköy, but we practice in Eminönü, which is on the European side. The ferry rides are good for sitting and relaxing after a hard day of practice. They sell Turkish candy, toast and tea on the ferry, which makes the ride more enjoyable, too.
The food is really good here. Restaurants serve a lot of chicken and beef, and almost every meal is served with rice, tomatoes and a lot of bread. A popular dish in Turkish restaurants is called Iskender, which is a thin slice of beef covered in yogurt and served over bread. The yogurt is a bit different than the yogurt in the United States, which makes the combination pretty good. Aside from traditional Turkish dishes, I occasionally eat at American fast food chains. Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Popeyes and Pizza Hut are all very popular here.
Along with traditional restaurants, many people buy food from street vendors. Street vendors here sell roasted chestnuts, bread in the shape of a large circle and mussels with rice.
The best part of being here is the basketball. People in Istanbul love sports, and the city’s most popular sport is soccer. I live right by Fenerbahce Stadium where Fenerbahce S.K. plays, which is one of the most popular teams in Turkey.
While soccer might be the favorite sport, basketball is definitely not far behind. There are several professional basketball teams in Istanbul alone, and the style of play is a little different from that in the United States.
The training is also a change and here, we rarely ever lift. If we want to lift, we have to come before practice in our own time. Also, the team shares the gym with a school so the practice schedule changes fairly often.
The biggest change that I have encountered on the court is obviously the language barrier. Especially during timeouts, where I typically would use selective listening while Coach Jones yelled at the team, the coach’s rants that are told to the team are selectively told to me by the teammates who speak English. For the most part the sentences come fragmented, but enough to understand what is being said.
While most of my teammates know the basics of English (yes, no), I would say only five of the 15 teammates on the roster speak enough English to hold a conversation with. These are the guys that do most of the translating when I have a question or when new plays are being put in.
My father used to always tell me that, “It’s a small world,” but I never realized how small it was until I landed and started talking to my teammate, Mehmet Sahan.
I found out that he went to prep school in New Hampshire before playing for Sacred Heart University, and knows former AU shooting guard Simon McCormack pretty well. Since Mehmet would stay in America during the summers, he would work out with Simon and his trainer. They also played on the same Amateur Athletic Union team.
So far, I am having a great time in Istanbul. The city is beautiful, and I’m playing well. Thank you all for your continuous support!