Osman’s EuroLeague legacy translating to NBA with All-Star weekend pick

By John Alfes
Medill Reports

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman is an icon in the EuroLeague, where he played for four years with Anadolu Efes — a Turkish professional basketball team based in Istanbul. He started there at age 18.

The experience refined Osman’s game on the court, fostered his relationships off the court and spotlighted his reputation throughout the landscape of European basketball.

Cedi Osman played for the Turkish national team overseas prior to joining the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA. (Ayca Yildiz/Flickr)

“He’s one of the best players that Turkey has had in history,” said Bogdan Bogdanovic, a Belgrade native and shooting guard for the Sacramento Kings. “A guy who dedicated his life for basketball, very professional. He works hard every single day. He’s from a good family, too.”

The NBA All-Star weekend at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte provided Osman with his first chance to shine and garner national attention in America. His second-year performance in the NBA had carved out a spot on the World Team in the Rising Stars game on Friday.

Osman displayed his wide array of skills in the exhibition contest, filling the stat sheet with two points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals in the World Team’s 161-144 loss to the U.S. Team.

“I never like to talk about me, but, in Turkey, I’m kind of really popular,” Osman said. “I already know that I can do this (in America), that I can be a rising star, that I can be an All-Star.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Osman with the 31st overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft before the Cavaliers traded for him that same night in June 2015. Osman continued to play in the EuroLeague and on the Turkish national team for two seasons until Cleveland inked him to a professional contract in July 2017.

Cedi Osman (left) celebrates a victory with guard Dogus Balbay (right) during his EuroLeague tenure. (Ayca Yildiz/Flickr)

Since then, Osman’s EuroLeague legacy has gradually translated to the NBA — from playing minimal minutes alongside LeBron James last year to averaging 14.5 points in a substantial role with the Cavs this season.

“From the last year to now, I think that I put a lot of work in,” Osman said. “As far as playing time, this year is better. Just have to still keep going hard and working hard.”

But Osman’s World Team teammates already knew his abilities would effectively transfer from the EuroLeague to the NBA. The All-Star weekend, though, gave Americans their first taste of what Osman brings to the hardwood.

“I knew him when I played against his team in Turkey,” said shooting guard Luka Doncic, who played for Real Madrid in the EuroLeague and the Slovenian national team before becoming one of the NBA’s best rookies with the Dallas Mavericks in 2018-19. “I think he can be really great in this league. Just keep working, and he’s going to be great in this league for sure.”

Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen and Brooklyn Nets small forward Rodions Kurucs shared that sentiment, too.

“I played him a couple times in the Euros, too, and just now I’ve been able to talk to him in the locker room,” said Markkanen, who hails from Vantaa and the Finnish national team. “He’s a young guy, especially when he played for Turkey. When we played them, he was really their main guy. He’s been improving from last year, too.”

“He’s got more confidence,” said Kurucs, a product of Cesis, Latvia, and former player for FC Barcelona and the Latvian national team. “He was like the star of his (EuroLeague) team. Our team treated him like a top scorer, a really good player on the Turkey team.”

Osman’s impact resonates throughout Turkey, where he recently signed a sponsorship deal with Head & Shoulders and has a commercial still to air this coming summer.

Osman’s legacy, though, is building in the United States — the home to the world’s highest level of basketball competition.

“For the young players coming up from Turkey, I think it’s going to be very important for them,” Osman said of setting the example for those looking to follow in his footsteps. “I think it’s also going to be very important for them to see it so they can dream about it.”

Photo at top: Cedi Osman represented the Cavaliers and played for the World Team at the Rising Stars game on Friday at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. (John Alfes/Medill)