This time last year, Omer Yurtseven was sitting on the N.C. State bench, waiting for his college career to begin.
The 7-0, 245-pound sophomore center from Turkey came to N.C. State last season with the idea of being a one-and-done player. He had to sit out the first nine games, under NCAA amateurism rules, because of his three-year tenure with his Turkish club.
He averaged just 5.9 points and 4.6 rebounds while playing 18.9 minutes in 22 games with 14 starts last season under then-coach Mark Gottfried. On a team where freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. touched the ball most frequently on offense, Yurtseven was involved only 19.1 percent of the time, according to kenpom.com, compared to Smith’s 28 percent.
“Omer came over with an unbelievable rep and things didn’t go the way he wanted it to go last year,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said.
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A year later, all that’s changed, and he’s already found solid footing in N.C. State’s playing rotation this season.
Yurtseven is averaging 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, as the Wolfpack heads into its ACC-Big Ten Challenge against Penn State at PNC Arena on Wednesday night.
The reason for Yurtseven’s improvement, Keatts said, is his comprehension and understanding of the game.
Keatts, having replaced Gottfried in March, runs a more wide-open offense and, through N.C. State’s first seven games, Yurtseven has touched the ball on 25.4 percent of the Wolfpack’s possessions. That leads the team, just ahead of leading scorer Allerik Freeman’s 25.2 percent.
“I think our players are starting to understand we can get him the ball, and he can score around the basket,” Keatts said. “And then he made a couple of 3s.”
Yurtseven’s production increased last week when N.C. State faced its toughest competition, so far, during a three-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Yurtseven scored in double figures in games against Arizona, Northern Iowa and Tennessee. He recorded his second career double-double – and first this season – with 17 points and 13 rebounds in N.C. State’s 64-60 loss to Northern Iowa last Thursday.
“The thing is this non-conference games really help you to get into your rhythm and get going, get used to your teammates, the coach, the offense, the system, everything,” Yurtseven said. “Missing this portion was really bad last year. Now, getting my rhythm, it feels good.”
Yurtseven entered the NBA draft last spring but pulled his name out and returned to N.C. State in late May.
Following an inconsistent freshman season that included a delayed start to play, he’s currently in a good groove.
“With Omer, every game and every practice his confidence is starting to grow,” Keatts said. “I just think it’s one of those confidence things. He’s a very talented young man as you guys got a chance to see in the last three games.”
The main area Yurtseven still needs to work on? Free throws. He’s only made half his shots from the line, and Keatts said that’s not good enough.
“In order for him to take his game to the next level he has to become a better free-throw shooter,” Keatts said. “Right now he’s too skilled to be shooting 11-of-22 for the season. He’s got to do a better job in that area.”
Penn State at N.C. State
What: ACC-Big Ten Challenge
When: 7:15 p.m., Wednesday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh