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The Saturday Profile: From N.B.A. Washout to Cult Hero in Turkey

But in general, Mr. Udoh said, he has been surprised by how normal and pleasant Turkey is — in fact, not so different from what he was used to at home.

“Living in the States, you see the bombings, you see how the agenda on Muslims is right now in the world,” said Mr. Udoh, who had previously left the United States only a handful of times. “So you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, how do I deal with all this whoop-de-whoop’ and whatever? Then you get out here, and it’s like, ‘Oh, man, it’s beautiful.’”

In fact, the disjunction between what he had been led to believe about Turkey and his experience living here inspired him to question much of what he knew about his home country.

So in tandem with his Turkish studies, Mr. Udoh began to re-examine what he knew of black history in America. First he read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which explores medical experimentation on black Americans. Then he took on Harriet A. Washington’s “Medical Apartheid,” which addresses the same issue.

This process of discovery and improvement continued on the court. In the United States, Mr. Udoh was considered a weak offensive player. But since he arrived in Turkey, basketball experts say, his shooting and attacking play has improved — a change that Mr. Udoh attributes to Fenerbahce’s coach, Zeljko Obradovic.

“He worked really hard. He evolved,” said Ugur Ozan Sulak, a basketball commentator for beIN Sports, a popular satellite channel. “Now he’s a versatile player, and he’s probably the most wanted player in Europe currently.”

Once American players end up in the Euroleague, they rarely return to the N.B.A. But Mr. Udoh’s transformation has been so formidable that some think he can be an exception, with rumors of a move to the Philadelphia 76ers this summer. (“No comment,” Mr. Udoh said.)

Some of Mr. Udoh’s fans cannot believe he would accept such a move, so enthusiastic has he been for all things Turkish. “He won’t leave,” said Mr. Elmas, the fan outside Fenerbahce stadium. “He loves it here.”

But the likes of Mr. Elmas may soon be dealt a cruel blow. “At the end of the day, it is a business as well,” Mr. Udoh said coyly. “And the N.B.A. is the best league in the world. Who doesn’t want to be at the best, you know?”

Source: NYT > World

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