Berke Büyüktuncel, a talented rising star, has gained considerable attention for his impressive performance in international tournaments and the Turkish Basketball Super League (BSL). He started his career with the TOFAŞ youth team and quickly made a name for himself in the U18, U19 and U20 tournaments. Despite his young age, Büyüktuncel has a strong understanding of the game and always brings energy to the court. We sat down with him for an interview where we discussed his career and future goals.
After a remarkable season in the Turkish Basketball League, Büyüktuncel made a great impression this summer at the 2023 FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, averaging 11.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 17.6 PIR, and was selected to the tournament’s All-Star Five. Right after the U19 tournament, without a break, he is now playing in the U20 European Championship. It’s obvious that we can expect to hear his name more often in the coming years, so let’s take a closer look at this season he spent with TOFAŞ.
The Turkish Basketball Super League is known for it’s fierce competition. This season has been challenging for many teams in the league. TOFAŞ was one of the 16 teams fighting for a playoff spot. Büyüktuncel had significant moments with TOFAŞ in both the Basketball Super League and the Basketball Champions League this season. He emphasizes the competitive nature of the Turkish League, the exceptional level of talent and the intense rivalry between the teams. He was expecting a smoother ride this season, but was surprised by the intense competition and the pressure on the teams to secure their positions. Despite the challenges, Büyüktuncel enjoys playing with more experienced players and grateful for the opportunity to learn from them. He acknowledges the gap in experience between himself and his veteran teammates, but he embraces the challenge and strives to earn their respect and prove himself as a worthy player.
Making Waves with Versatility and Defensive Skills
Throughout the season, Büyüktuncel showed his defensive versatility by guarding players at various positions. While he displayed physicality against forwards, he faced unique challenges when matched up with quick point guards like Errick McCollum and Shane Larkin. He acknowledged the difficulty of defending speedy point guards due to their quick first steps and pick-and-roll moves. However, he highlighted his commitment to maintaining a safe defensive spacing and using his long wingspan against opponents. In addition, Büyüktuncel showed his offensive versatility with pick-and-pops in several games this season. He emphasized the importance of pressuring players like Marko Guduric and preventing them from initiating isolation plays near the halfcourt line. By applying defensive pressure and denying them the ball, he aimed to break their offensive rhythm.
Additionally, Büyüktuncel showed his adaptability by playing both small forward and power forward throughout the season. He explained that while both positions have similarities, he felt more comfortable playing small forward. In this position, he was able to use his height advantage against smaller defenders, making it easier to score and pass. He noted the importance of shooting from the small forward position, while also emphasizing the ability to penetrate and make effective backdoor cuts. While expressing his competence in the power forward role, he admitted a slight preference for the small forward position due to the advantageous matchups it offers.
Learning From Different Coaches
TOFAŞ started the season with coach Dimitris Priftis but then continued with coach Orhun Ene. Büyüktuncel says both coaches contributed to his game in different ways as they both have different coaching styles. While he avoids any kind of comparisons, he acknowledges the different cultures, mentalities, and coaching philosophies that each coach has.
With coach Priftis, Büyüktuncel emphasizes an inclusive approach to all players, regardless of age or experience. Rather than categorizing players as “young” versus “experienced” and limiting their contributions, he encouraged Büyüktuncel to fully participate as a respected team member. The coach’s focus on teamwork and decision-making allowed Büyüktuncel to feel like an important part of the team, rather than a young player who simply passes the ball to more experienced teammates. This approach has helped him grow and contribute to the team’s success. And with coach Orhun Ene, Büyüktuncel notes his adaptability in playing different positions. He maintains a positive perspective and appreciates the equal treatment he receives from coach Ene. Overall, he acknowledges that both coaches have made a positive contribution to his development.
This season, Büyüktuncel learned not only from the coaches he worked with, but also from some veteran players. He highlights the impact Tyler Ennis has had both on and off the court. Since they were roommates, Tyler Ennis has been a guiding force in helping Büyüktuncel establish a routine this season. He credits Ennis with changing his approach to sleep and nutrition. He also recalls Ennis’ constant reminder throughout the season to prioritize the next possession and let go of past mistakes.
The Power of Confidence
Another characteristic of Berke Büyüktuncel is his confidence and competitive spirit on the court.”Confidence is a big part of my game” he says and he energizes his team every time he steps on the court, fighting to the end no matter who is in front of him. Age and experience may separate him from his opponents, but he approaches every game with a dedication to compete and give his all on the court.
Playing for TOFAŞ has also played a crucial role in boosting Büyüktuncel’s confidence. After two years of playing with the senior team, he feels comfortable and fully capable of performing at the BSL level. Despite his progress, Büyüktuncel acknowledges that there are areas of his game that need improvement. One of them is his jumpshot, especially under pressure and he wants to improve his shooting by making smarter choices. By focusing on pull-up shots and improving his decision-making, he aims to boost his overall performance.
Büyüktuncel not only played crucial minutes in the BSL but also in international tournaments. The most important ones were the U19 World Cup in Latvia in 2021 and then the U18 European Championship last year, where Büyüktuncel made a name for himself with his performance. Reflecting on the tournament, Büyüktuncel said, “I wasn’t treated like a youngster there. They saw me as a teammate. The respect was mutual and I felt comfortable in the team.”
Recalling a memorable encounter against the USA in 2019, Büyüktuncel recounts his initial shock at seeing his name in the starting five. However, at the U18 tournament the previous year, his game had developed significantly and he became more confident in his game. His experience has also shaped his approach to leadership. As the team captain, he shares the wisdom of his journey with his teammates. “Nobody should be a Superman; we need soldiers on our team,” he says, emphasizing the importance of sharing the ball and encouraging a selfless style of play.
Chasing Greatness: Berke Büyüktuncel’s NBA Dream
Berke Büyüktuncel is encouraged and inspired by the success of Turkish players in the NBA. Among those players, Büyüktuncel especially enjoys watching Alperen Şengün’s performance this season. Şengün’s impact on the court inspires him, and he sees the rise of Turkish players in the NBA as a positive sign for his own future. With dreams of following in the footsteps of Turkish basketball legends Mehmet Okur and Hidayet Türkoğlu, Berke Büyüktuncel dreams of making a name for himself in the NBA. With a passion for success, he dreams a future where he becomes a key player on a prominent team, gaining respect and responsibility. Refusing to settle for a benchwarmer role, he is craving meaningful playing time and a chance to showcase his skills. Büyüktuncel’s hunger for dominance drives him to seek opportunities for growth and development.