US women know all about Turkish hoops rivals

US women know all about Turkish hoops rivals

Published Jul. 23, 2012 10:51 a.m. ET

Diana Taurasi knows a bit about rivalries.

She grew up a Lakers fan and hated the Celtics. She also played for coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut during the height of the Tennessee-UConn rivalry.

Both pale compared to the hatred between Turkish clubs Fenerbahce and Galatasaray. It's one of the fiercest in women's basketball.

''Nothing I've seen can compare to when those two teams play,'' Taurasi said. ''They just bring it to another level.''


She's seen both sides. She started with Fenerbahce before switching over to Galatasaray. Taurasi was playing for Fenerbahce in 2010 when she was provisionally suspended for using a banned substance. The suspension was lifted nearly two months later when the lab that returned the positive test retracted its report.

When she returned to Turkey last season, she changed to rival Galatasaray.

Taurasi is one of six players on the U.S. women's Olympic team who have played in Turkey. Seimone Augustus, Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Tamika Catchings have played for Galatasaray, while Angel McCoughtry suited up for Fenerbahce.

Think Connecticut-Tennessee and magnify that by 100, according to Catchings, who received a stuffed bear from one of the Gala fans Saturday night before the Americans' rout of Croatia.

''It's a different level,'' said Catchings, who turned 33 on Saturday. ''You grow up liking a team because of your heritage. They grow up diehard fans. They know the chants. They know everything. Going to another team is unthinkable.''

Even though the American players weren't born into the rivalry, they learn quickly how intense it can be.

''You don't know till you come here. It's worse than Yankees-Red Sox,'' McCoughtry said. ''It's deep. It's instilled in you growing up. It's really unique. You're like `What in the world is this?' Then you learn what everything is and you appreciate the rivalry.''

Every game between the two teams always draws a huge police presence to try and control the crowd. While those types of rivalries are common across Europe in soccer or in men's basketball, it rarely is heard of on the women's side.

''You see Gala fans on one side and Fener on the other,'' Augustus said. ''The police are in the middle and somehow fights usually break out in the stands.''

On Sunday night the rival factions actually had something in common - cheering on their national team against the U.S. Buoyed by the support of the home crowd, the Turks stayed with the Americans for 30 minutes before eventually falling 80-61.

Every time the U.S. players touched the ball loud whistles and boos echoed throughout the arena. Taurasi, who is a fan favorite during the winter when she plays in Turkey, was not spared.

''I would venture to say a lot of the people that love Diana loved her before the game and loved her after,'' Auriemma said. ''During the game they booed her every time she touched the ball, so it was perfect. This is one of those places where people are rabid about women's basketball and they have a right to be. They have two great teams and have had a tremendous amount of talent that has played here. They are a knowledgeable group of fans.''

''All that goes out the window when your country's playing. I don't care how much you hate Fenerbahce it doesn't matter. When you play for your country you hate who they are playing against. This was Turkey against the U.S.''

Turkey's homegrown talent has improved over the years. The Turks qualified for their first Olympics and will be headed to London. They will also host the 2014 women's basketball world championship.

''They have a lot of talent here,'' Taurasi said. ''They aren't afraid of anyone and could make some waves in London.''

Turkey is in the same pool as the Americans and will play on Aug. 1.