Orhun Gungoren speaks Turkish, basketball to help Rockets rookie Alperen Sengun


LOS ANGELES – Rockets rookie forward Alperen Sengun would soon turn 17 but clearly talented and one year away from joining Turkish power Besiktas.

Orhun Gungoren was 27, a year after a playing career in Turkey that he didn’t see take him to where he thought the coach could one day.

An English-speaking summer camp coach in their hometown of Izmir-Karsiyaka needed someone fluent in English, Turkish and basketball. Gungoren jumped at the chance to fill the role, train and translate without ever imagining where it would take him.

“We trained together for a month,” Gungoren said. “We had a foreign coach and I was helping him on the pitch and also as a translator.

“I played professionally in the Turkish league. I quit three years ago and… started working as a basketball coach in Turkey.

Two years later, after Sengun became the Turkish League MVP and a Rockets first-round pick, Gungoren is still by his side. He stands next to him in the Rockets Bands. He is behind the bench during games. He helps him warm up before games.

“It’s great to have OG with us behind the bench,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas. “There are times when I will say something to Al-P and he will kind of look and then OG (translated) into basketball because he knows basketball. The language part is one thing, but the basketball part is another. He is able to do both.

They share a home in Houston and the whirlwind of new experiences in a country they had never seen before.

While much of Gungoren is there to ease Sengun’s transition and help him succeed, for a young coach and basketball enthusiast, the experience is part advanced study, part fantastic camp.

“It’s like a dream,” Gungoren said. “I feel like I’m living in a dream. We have an amazing head coach, amazing assistant coaches. I try to learn everything I can. I try to concentrate on every detail of the training sessions, the matches. In matches, I am behind the bench.

“I try to focus on Al-P too. Sometimes certain things are missing because of the language. I’m trying to help with that but also for me it’s like… all I can say, like a dream.

For an aspiring trainer, little training could be better. But Gungoren also relishes every minute on the floor. That’s why he stopped playing. His playing career will be short. A coaching career could last, especially now that he got the start and a training he never could have imagined.

“I decided I had a better path as a coach than a player,” said Gungoren. “I saw more potential. And I am crazy. I love basketball. As a coach in Turkey, I spent six, seven hours on the pitch every day.

“Before the games, I go to the players in warm-up. I stay three hours because I cannot go out. It’s a beautiful dream, all these players, talented players. For me it is a great pleasure. Even when I pass, I feel great pleasure.

It doesn’t stop when he leaves the arenas. His stint in the NBA has already taken him from Toronto to Los Angeles. But Houston will be home. He joined Sengun in September and even with all the travel, his impressions of life in America will not be of a tourist but of a resident.

“Off the pitch, this is also my first time in the United States,” Gungoren said. “It’s new to me. It’s good. Houston is a big city. Very big city and the people are so nice. They are welcoming people. “

Still, the point is to help Sengun, sometimes just to make him feel more comfortable.

“On and off the pitch he helps me a lot because it’s my first year and we’re together,” Sengun said before adding something that made the two laugh.

“I will not translate what he said,” Gungoren said.

His job is in many ways different from where Yao Ming had an interpreter to ease the transition.

Colin Pine was very interested in basketball and Chinese culture, but he was neither a coach nor a former player. He not only took care of the translation for Yao during the practices and media sessions, but also helped teach him about living in the United States, holidays and customs to idiomatic English not included in the classes. by Yao.

Sengun and Gungoren learn together.

“We’re also off the pitch together,” Gungoren said. “We eat together. At home we decided to speak more English. It’s good for him. And for me, it’s not good for me to speak Turkish here. I want to improve my English. So, it’s good for both of us.

It’s better than good. From the education of a coach to the enjoyment of a basketball fan, it’s a “like a dream”, even if he had never thought of dreaming it before.



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