Omer Yurtseven’s introduction to ACC basketball was a reality check but the N.C. State freshman has proven to be a quick learner.
After some early difficult lessons in conference play, Yurtseven was the dominant post player N.C. State needs him to be in Tuesday’s home win over Pittsburgh. The 7-foot freshman from Turkey had 12 points and 16 rebounds against the Panthers and the Wolfpack (13-6, 2-4 ACC) will need more of the same against Wake Forest (11-7, 2-4) on Saturday.
“I really miss the feeling of battling to the end and then winning,” Yurtseven said after N.C. State’s 79-74 win over the Panthers. “That feeling is different. I forgot that feeling and now it’s coming back, and I hope, will keep us going.”
It has already been an eventful season for the freshman from Istanbul. He had to sit out the first nine games of the season and make a $1,000 donation to charity after the NCAA reviewed his amateur status.
Yurtseven spent the previous three seasons playing for a professional club in his home country. Yurtseven was able to make a quick transition in nonconference play, with 12 points in each of his first two games and 16 against Rider on Dec. 28.
But his first ACC game, at Miami on Dec. 31, was as education. The first time he touched the ball in an ACC game, a pass in the middle of Miami’s zone, he dropped the ball for a turnover.
His first shot attempt, an open layup at the right side of the basket, was pinned against the backboard by Miami guard Bruce Brown, who is seven inches shorter.
“I remember that possession,” Yurtseven said. “I don’t forget things like that.”
That was clear with 5:08 left against Pitt when Yurtseven caught a bounce pass off of a pick-and-roll from guard Markell Johnson. Yurtseven collected the pass in the lane, got both his feet under him and the dunked over Pittsburgh’s Sheldon Jeter to tie the game at 69.
There was nothing timorous about the move.
“That’s how I have to be all the time,” Yurtseven said.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was hopeful that Yurtseven would get a shot of confidence from his play against Pitt. Yurtseven had only averaged 3.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in his first five ACC games.
He’s young and he’s learning. I think (Tuesday) was important for his confidence and I think the other players will get more confidence in him.
Mark Gottfried on Omer Yurtseven
“He’s young and he’s learning,” Gottfried said. “I think (Tuesday) was important for his confidence and I think the other players will get more confidence in him.”
Gottfried likes to joke with junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu about being a “sweetheart.” Yurtseven has some of the same personality traits.
“Omer’s definitely nicer than me,” Abu said.
It’s possible to be aggressive on the court and still be a gentle soul off of it. Yurtseven has taken his slow conference start to heart. He knew he could do more than he showed in the first five games.
“It really wasn’t enough,” Yurtseven said. “I felt like I let (the team) down. It was past the time to pick things up.”
Yurtseven showed what he was capable of against Pitt with eight offensive rebounds, two key late free throws and a smart pass to Torin Dorn for an easy basket in the first half.
“He can be that way every game,” Abu said.
If Yurtseven is, the Wolfpack will be able to quickly forget a 1-4 ACC start. Or, at least like Yurtseven did, learn from it and get better.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Wake Forest at N.C. State
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
TV: ACC Network Extra