Short of 91 points, a series of increasingly impressive dunks and a barrage of halfcourt 3-pointers, there was almost no way Omer Yurtseven could have lived up to the expectations for his N.C. State debut on Thursday.
And he did not live up to them, unfair as that may be. It was always going to be impossible, or nearly impossible. What Yurtseven showed, after sitting out a nine-game NCAA suspension, was an array of useful skills and flashes of the inside-outside game the 7-footer promises to deliver with greater fluidity later on. He also looked a little lost at times, like an 18-year-old freshman in his first college game, even if Appalachian State offered little resistance in a 97-64 N.C. State win, the Wolfpack’s biggest of the season.
For N.C. State fans in particular, the unseen Yurtseven embodied the promise of better days ahead after an up-and-down start to the season. The Wolfpack lost to Creighton and Illinois in games that may have serious NCAA tournament implications while surviving four single-digit or overtime games that N.C. State expected to win by more. Surely, when Yurtseven finally made his debut, things would fall into place.
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Throw in the nearly mythical legend of Yurtseven – that 91-point game in Turkey’s under-18 league in May, a lottery pick according to some NBA scouts, so important to his Turkish club team that it apparently sabotaged his NCAA eligibility, leading to his nine-game suspension – and Thursday felt like an even longer time coming.
The same was true of Dennis Smith Jr. when he played his first game for N.C. State, in a narrow season-opening win over Georgia Southern. Smith looked overwhelmed at times, unable to exert any control over the game. A month later, he’s leading N.C. State in scoring and was a dominant force Thursday night.
“I just told him to go out there and be Omer,” Smith said. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of the best bigs in the country. He went out there and he was Omer. I could tell he was kind of nervous to start out, and that’s natural. He’s a young guy, just like me. He got adjusted quick.”
It takes a little time, even for the best players, potential one-and-dones like Smith and Yurtseven.
The problem for N.C. State is the Wolfpack doesn’t have much time. The ACC season is only four games away, starting at Miami on New Year’s Eve. Just as Smith had to jump straight into the deep end of the pool, the pressure is on Yurtseven to get up to speed quickly.
It took Yurtseven five minutes of game time to get his first basket Thursday, coming off the bench, and scored nine of his 12 points in the first half. He showed off his pick-and-roll ability, even if he couldn’t finish, and didn’t have much an impact under the rim defensively. In addition to his respectable 12 points, he finished with three rebounds, three turnovers, four fouls and a lane violation. More is expected, but it’s a start.
“I thought he did pretty good for his first night,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Again, take it slow. It’s gonna come.”
Still, this isn’t all about Yurtseven. It’s going to be asking a lot of him, though, good as he may be, to fix critical deficiencies in N.C. State’s defense and rebounding, both of which have been extremely suspect so far. Yurtseven may help, but so far the Wolfpack has been lacking the will and commitment to engage in the parts of the game that don’t involve scoring.
But when it comes to scoring, N.C. State can do that. With the high-scoring perimeter trio of Smith, Terry Henderson and Torin Dorn to go with Abdul-Malik Abu inside and Yurtseven as the wild card, offense shouldn’t be an issue for the Wolfpack.
As for the rest of it? Just as it was too much to expect Yurtseven to dominate right away Thursday, it’s too much expect him to fix everything else about the Wolfpack that needs fixing. That’s everybody’s job. Thursday was a step in the right direction. Smith said the Wolfpack wanted to make a statement, to blow someone out, a goal successfully accomplished with Yurtseven finally in the mix.
So the fans applauded just about everything Yurtseven did Thursday, from making layups after the whistle to taking a seat on the bench. After waiting this long to see him, it was all worth the wait, whatever it turned out to be.
“I’ve got way more games to play,” Yurtseven said, and that’s really what matters.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock