The second round of European qualifiers for the FIBA World Cup starts today. The Turkish men's basketball team will host Slovenia in its first match on Friday. The team already has a ticket to the World Cup in China that will be held between Aug. 31 and Sept. 15. With qualifiers against Slovenia and later with Spain, the Turkish side is aiming to boost its standing in the international basketball rankings.
Slovenia, which Turkey will host in the capital Ankara, lost 77-86 to Turkey in the first round in September while Turkey's last game in the qualifiers ended with a 71-66 loss against Montenegro in December. In the second round of the qualifiers, the three highest-placed teams from each group will qualify for the World Cup. Turkey is runner-up in Group I dominated by Spain.
Turkey's coach Ufuk Sarıca says it was "a great bliss to make calculations for leadership." Speaking at a press conference this week, Sarıca said they have been going through "difficult times" due to absence of some key players but their ambitions remain unchanged.
Though Spain and Turkey have tickets for World Cup thanks to their points from previous games, the Turkish side wants to boost its standing in the global FIBA rankings from 17th place to the top 10.
The team captain Semih Erden says they are relaxed because they already have their ticket and want to "ensure the fans to have a good time" in the match against Slovenia.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), the team's shooting guard Sinan Güler said they wanted to show that the team's future is "bright" with a win against Slovenia. He said a win would be fine but they want to demonstrate good gameplay more. Güler acknowledges that short gaps between national team games and games each player plays for their own team may be challenging.
"But we are more focused on the World Cup now as we are closer to it than ever," he added. "This is a good opportunity for all. Our rivals also have players who want to join Turkish outfits. Everyone has a chance to showcase their skills," he said.
Forward Yiğit Arslan says they have been longing for good results in the past few years and the World Cup may change the team's fate. "As young players, we want to use this opportunity the coach gave us by including us on the national team," the 22-year-old player said.
He added that although they already have a ticket to the World Cup, their upcoming games against Slovenia and Spain will be a key to test the "chemistry between players."
"Turkish basketball is now trying to introduce a new, rising generation. If we can prove our skills, we will have better results in the coming years. We are going step by step to this goal," he said.
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