Ready to Take Over
Yurtseven Hits the Court for the Hoyas
Oct. 31, 2019
Omer Yurtseven’s journey to Georgetown University has been long and at times winding, but the 7-foot senior center stands tall, ready to lead the Hoyas back to the NCAA tournament as one of the most skilled and experienced players on a team that relies heavily on sophomores.
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from North Carolina State University after the 2017-18 season, a consensus five-star prospect by 247Sports, a leading college basketball recruiting website, who had played on multiple Turkish national teams before joining the Wolfpack.
Having played semiprofessionally in Turkey as a high school student, Yurtseven has found himself in the spotlight for quite some time. In 2015, he averaged 9.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the U-18 national team in an international competition for people under age 18, helping the squad finish as runner-up at the International Basketball Federation European championship. In May 2016, the 17-year-old center also made international sports news by scoring 91 points in a U-18 basketball game.
Later that year, Yurtseven was named to the All-Star Five at the FIBA U-20 European championship, another major international basketball tournament with many of the world’s top players under 20 years old, and was the leading scorer on the bronze-medalist team. With the talent to turn pro in Turkey after high school, Yurtseven instead chose to play college basketball in the United States and was ranked as the No. 3 center prospect in the 2016 recruiting class by Scout, a major college athletics recruit tracking website.
Taking his talents to NC State in the fall of 2016, Yurtseven played 22 games as a freshman and saw a breakout sophomore season. In the 2017-18 season, Yurtseven averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while starting 32 of 33 games for the Wolfpack. His efforts landed him on the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Third Team.
But after a hugely successful sophomore season, Yurtseven, a practicing Muslim, felt the need to change schools, partially because of religious intolerance in the area, as The Georgetown Voice reported last year.
In 2013, North Carolina passed a law to prevent Islamic law from being imposed in its courts, which critics labeled unnecessary and Islamophobic. Two years later, three Muslim University of North Carolina students were murdered in their Chapel Hill, N.C. apartment, exacerbating concerns about Islamophobia.
Yurtseven declined to comment on this facet of his decision, but acknowledged his appreciation for the inclusivity of Washington, D.C.
“D.C. is a really diverse place … [and] being more diverse, I definitely feel more comfortable here,” Yurtseven said in an interview with The Hoya. “It makes me in a more optimal situation to just focus on my game and do what I do.”
Before coming to the Hilltop, however, Yurtseven first considered leaving college altogether to go pro: Yurtseven had first-round NBA draft talent according to many NBA draft experts, including consultants at NBC Sports. Yurtseven entered the draft pool after his freshman season but later withdrew to return to college basketball.
In the end, Yurtseven felt he needed more training before turning pro, and he found the perfect fit at Georgetown. Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) entered his second season back at Georgetown the same year Yurtseven had to sit out a season.
“After going through the ‘should I try, should I not,’ it wasn’t really a tough decision because [Ewing] really checked all the boxes I needed,” Yurtseven said. “Once he talked to me and once I expressed my concerns of staying in college for four years — it’s a long time period, but just knowing that he’s going to see the game from my perspective as a big man who’s played there and also coached in the NBA, his experience on and off as a player and a coach is what drew me here.”
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Yurtseven was forced to sit out for all of the 2018-19 season. But that time on the bench only gave Ewing more time to develop Yurtseven into a formidable player, one he sees a lot of potential in.
“I expect a lot out of [Yurtseven],” Ewing said in an interview with The Hoya. “I’m expecting him to continue what he did at NC State in the same style but better here. I expect him to be a leader not only on the floor, but off the floor and to continue his high level of play.”
Yurtseven serves an important role in the frontcourt for the Hoyas, particularly after the graduation of center Jessie Govan (COL ’19) this year, who averaged 17.9 points per game in 2018 and 17.5 points per game in 2019. Still, Yurtseven does not feel the need to replace Govan; rather, he wants his game to do the talking.
“I will be making my own presence,” Yurtseven said.
Ewing appreciated Govan’s offensive talents, but sees Yurtseven as a more well-rounded big man.
“Omer, he also can shoot the three, but they’re different,” Ewing said. “He can post up, pick and roll, stretch the floor; he can rebound — he’s physical. All of those things really add to his game.”
Yurtseven’s teammates also have high praise for his leadership and playing ability. Terrell Allen, a graduate transfer guard from the University of Central Florida, sees him as more than ready to step into his leadership role this season along with fellow senior guard Jagan Mosely.
“He’s an unbelievable big man. He has great post moves — he can kind of do a little bit of everything,” Allen said in an interview with The Hoya. “We’ll be looking for him a lot this year and put a lot of weight on his shoulders this year, but I feel like he’s ready for the task to be put upon him.”
Yurtseven is joined by three freshmen centers in the frontcourt, with four-star Qudus Wahab chief among them, as well as Malcolm Wilson and Timothy Ighoefe. Yurtseven has enjoyed battling with the three in practice and looks forward to contributing alongside them this season.
“The freshmen have been better than I expected. I saw the freshmen play against other freshmen, and they’re tougher. Especially Qudus,” Yurtseven said. “It’s fun playing against him and playing with him. I really like all they bring.”
As he takes to the court for Georgetown this season, Yurtseven has remained in the spotlight: He was selected to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award Preseason Watch List earlier in October, an honor Govan also received last year. This award names the best center in NCAA Division I basketball on the year, with a Preseason Watch List selection declaring that members of the media see him as a legitimate contender.
Yurtseven was also named to the watchlist in 2016 and 2017 at NC State, but he sees this moment as his time to take over as a center and win the coveted season-end award.
“It’s been a goal of mine,” Yurtseven said. “And this is my last year so it will be great to go out and get it.”
Yurtseven has heard discussions about the difference between ACC and Big East basketball, though he believes the difference is overplayed.
“I heard ACC Basketball is faster, which is weird because I don’t think that way. After I watched 32 games last year, I was like, ‘Oh, it is fast.’ It’s not as slow as mentioned, and I don’t think one conference is better than the other.” Yurtseven said. “But the Big East might be tougher in terms of teams that bring toughness.”
Still, during his year on the bench, this fierce competitor wanted nothing but to get on the court for Georgetown: Going into the team’s first game, a home game against Mount St. Mary’s University on Nov. 6, Yurtseven is excited for the opportunity.
“The opposing team doesn’t matter at this point,” Yurtseven said. “It’s the first game at Capital One [Arena]. I wore a suit before. Now I’m ready.”