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Kimyacioglu, Turkish national team have high hopes for Olympics

 

As Sebnem Kimyacioglu waited for her flight to board for Turkey recently, she took a moment to reflect on an unlikely turn of events. The former Stanford University and Pinewood School basketball standout was on her way to join the Turkish women's basketball national team in preparation for the Olympic Games.

"Oh my gosh, I'm going to be there,'' she said of being part of the Olympics. "I don't think I quite believe it, but it's gradually settling in that it's a reality.''

She was about to embark on a trip in which the joyful and the sorrowful were intertwined.

Kimyacioglu was flying into Istanbul Ataturk Airport, where 44 people were killed in a recent terrorist attack.

"The country I represent was under attack a couple of days ago,'' Kimyacioglu said. "That's the world we live in. Any success we have may bring happiness to people in Turkey who were affected by those horrible acts.''

That Kimyacioglu was making the trip at all was a story in itself. She had already, in her words, "hung up her sneakers.'' That was back in 2008 after having played professionally for three years in Turkey.

That was when she embarked on the project of making a place for herself in the real world by retiring from basketball, going to law school and passing the bar exam to become a licensed attorney in the state of California.

She started playing again in 2012 for the Turkish entrant in the Euroleague, but didn't entertain any serious thoughts of playing for the Turkish national team. She would return to California in the summer to practice law, and that's when the national team played.

Her team won the Euroleague championship in 2014, a notable achievement in a league that included many top players from the U.S.

Then her coach, Ekrem Memnun, was named coach of the national team. Memnun is a coach Kimyacioglu respects greatly along with former mentors Doc Scheppler at Pinewood and Tara VanDerveer at Stanford.

When he gave her a call two months ago they talked and she agreed to join the team and lace up those sneakers, one more time.

"After this I'm going to try to get my foot in the door and start my legal career,'' Kimyacioglu said.

Kimaycioglu's parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1980. She was born in 1983 and grew up in Mountain View. From an early age she had an affinity for basketball.

"In elementary school I played with the boys,'' she said. "My father tried to sign me up for a coed league, but was told he had to be a coach. He was from Turkey, he knew soccer but not basketball. Pretty soon we had all these VHS tapes around the house, how-to videos from Rick Pitino, Pistol Pete and all these others. My father became my first coach.''

In high school she came under the tutelage of Scheppler, "one of the best individual coaches, especially for shooting, in the state if not the country,'' Kimyacioglu said.

At Stanford she played for VanDerveer, "a master strategizer.''

And now the focus is to see how far Turkey can go under Memnun.

"He's a man who loves to scout,'' Kimyacioglu said. "Meticulous preparation. He has a little bit of Tara in him. And he is so motivational, an incredible communicator.''

As far as Turkey's chances ... "We want to medal,'' Kimyacioglu said.

Australia is the favorite in Turkey's group. The top four from the group advance. Kimyacioglu said the team's objective is to finish in the top three in group play.

"The fourth-place team from our group plays the U.S.,'' she said. "We don't want that to be us.''

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