Omer Yurtseven ready to make an impact in return to the Pack

7-footer turned down NBA and overseas contract to return to NC State

NC State center Omer Yurtseven reacts as he takes the floor while the Wolfpack men's basketball team is introduced during the Primetime with the Park event at Reynolds Coliseum on Oct. 20. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Of the 30 players drafted in the second round of June’s NBA Draft, 17 have yet to see any on-court action this season.

Omer Yurtseven could easily be on that list.

The 7-footer from Turkey declared for the NBA Draft following a frustrating freshman year and received a second-round grade. He also received feedback on what he needed to improve.

“Lateral quickness,” Yurtseven said, “and defense and rebounding. They wanted me to be more aggressive on the boards.”

Still, a 7-foot Euro player who can shoot from the outside is worth a second-round pick, but Yurtseven passed up the chance to make an NBA roster this year and watch games from the best seat in the house.

He had enough of that at the start of last season.

Yurtseven was forced to sit out the first nine games of his freshman year at NC State, after an NCAA ruling on his tenure with a pro team in Turkey. He didn’t make his debut until Dec. 15, didn’t start until two weeks later and never really seemed to catch up.

“When Omer came in, having to sit out the first semester — the nonconference schedule — and then getting thrown into the ACC, I didn’t think he played with great confidence,” said new Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts.

“My confidence got bad when I saw guys playing, and I just had to sit on the bench and watch, when I just wanted to get out there and play,” Yurtseven said.

When he finally got on the court, Yurtseven struggled with foul trouble. He had at least three fouls in his first seven games and 14 of the 22 he played last year. He finished with averages of 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds.

“I mean, there were some flashes where I felt like my mind was in the game,” Yurtseven said of last season. “I just wasn’t comfortable. I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know. Last year was not the most comfortable year for me.”

With a disappointing season and a coaching change, the possibility of an NBA roster spot must have been tempting.

“I felt like I didn’t belong in the second round,” Yurtseven said. “That’s just how I felt. So I said I was going to prove that whoever didn’t want to draft me last year is going have to find a spot this year. That was my mentality — I’m going to prove them all wrong.”

Yurtseven also had the option of returning to Turkey to play for pay, while waiting for the NBA. He turned that down, too.

“To be honest, I easily could have,” he said, “but I felt like last year, there was just too much going on. This year will be solid, and I can just focus on basketball.”

He also felt that returning to Turkey would have been a step backward.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m right here.’ Why go back to Turkey?” Yurtseven said. “That’s where I came from. I came from there to play here. So why would I go back? That didn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Keatts also made a strong first impression on him.

“I felt comfortable going here,” he said. “Coach Keatts (re-)recruited me. He showed how we can play.”

“It was tough, because I had to convince Omer that the situation here would be a little bit different than it was last year,” Keatts said.

So Yurtseven decided to come back to NC State … with a vengeance.

“He didn’t just come back to NC State because I recruited him,” Keatts said. “He listened to what the NBA guys said he had to work on.”

Keatts has declared Yurtseven one of the most-improved players over the offseason.

“I basically practiced at least four hours a day for the whole summer,” Yurtseven said. “I was with the (Turkish) national team. We lifted. We ran mountains. It was like a boot camp like a month. Then I played two weeks with the under-20 team and two weeks with the senior national team. It’s been a productive summer. It’s been long. It’s been intense.”

So, while second-rounders are getting paid not to play in the NBA, Yurtseven is back with the Pack, and he has no regrets.

“The thing is when you choose one route, you go 100 percent with it, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I don’t look back and say, ‘Hey I should have done this.’ I don’t ever say that. I’m 100 percent committed, and I’m going to have a great season.”