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News » Ilyasova matures into pro Bucks want to rotate him at power forward

Ilyasova matures into pro Bucks want to rotate him at power forward

Ilyasova matures into pro  Bucks want to rotate him at power forward By CHARLES F. GARDNER

St. Francis - The last time Ersan Ilyasova put on a Milwaukee Bucks uniform, he was a timid 19-year-old and still far from ready to contribute in a significant way.

Now, more than two years later, the Turkish player is back with the Bucks and being counted on as an important part of coach Scott Skiles' power forward rotation.

Following two seasons with Regal FC Barcelona, the 6-foot-9 Ilyasova actually looks the part of a National Basketball Association player.

"He's played competitively at a very high level," Skiles said. "Just look at his body; his body is filled out.

"He's got a nice skill set. Even when he played before here, he showed flashes of those skills. He could make threes. He can pass the ball; he's got nice length. He's been a good rebounder."

One other ingredient has been added to Ilyasova's game, a healthy helping of confidence. That comes from playing with one of the top clubs in Europe and also playing a starring role for Turkey's national team.

Before returning to Milwaukee in late September, he helped Turkey reach the quarterfinals of the EuroBasket tournament in Poland. Ilyasova finished fourth among all tournament players in scoring, averaging 16.1 points, not far behind No. 1 scorer Pau Gasol (18.7 points) of Spain and No. 2 scorer Tony Parker of France (17.8).

The Bucks' power forward position is open, following the departure in free agency of Charlie Villanueva to the Detroit Pistons.

Hakim Warrick was signed to a one-year deal to help fill the spot, and Ilyasova signed a three-year, $7 million contract after the Bucks made an earlier qualifying offer to retain his rights.

"When I was here it was such a different organization, the guys, the coaches," Ilyasova said. "When I came here, it was like a new team. There's a big season in front of us, and I have to try to improve myself."

Ilyasova may yet become another of those second-round success stories for the Bucks . He was selected on potential with the 36th overall choice in the 2005 draft, putting him in the same draft class with Bucks center Andrew Bogut, the top overall pick that year.

"He was skinny; he wasn't confident," Bogut recalled. "Everything was new to him. It's very tough. When I went to college, I was in the same situation (coming to the U.S. from Australia).

"Now he's groomed his game, his body. He's mentally tougher, and I think he's really going to help us."

Ilyasova spent that first year with the Bucks getting in some practice time, but he was coming off a foot injury that limited his progress. He eventually played 46 games with Tulsa in the NBA Development League.

The next season, the 2006-'07 campaign, was a horrible one for the Bucks . They finished with a 28-54 record and fired coach Terry Stotts in mid-March, replacing him with Larry Krystkowiak. In part due to injuries, Ilyasova played in 66 games and made 14 starts.

The Bucks selected Chinese forward Yi Jianlian with the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and Ilyasova made the decision to go to Barcelona to work on his game.

"All the time my goal was to get back," Ilyasova said. "I went overseas to be a good player and improve. I think I did really well for Barca the last two years. I played a lot of games there."

Ilyasova helped Barcelona reach the Euroleague final four during the past season, a prestigious accomplishment for any top European club.

He averaged 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 22 Euroleague games, while shooting 49.5% from the field and 40.3% from three-point range.

And he helped Barcelona win the 2009 Spanish national championship.

"When you play for a club like Barcelona, all the time you have to play at a high level," Ilyasova said. "It was really important to play on a winning team, and to have to learn how to win the games."

The question for Skiles will be how to best utilize Ilyasova in a power forward rotation with the 6-9 Warrick and veteran big man Kurt Thomas.

"Within our team defense, can he guard some of the bigger power forwards?" Skiles said. "On the offensive end, he can make threes and spread them out a little bit.

"Or if he's matched up with some of those quicker power forwards, can he move his feet well enough to guard them off the dribble?

"That position now, one night it's a 7-foot guy, the next night it's a 6-7 guy, and (it changes) in the course of the same game."

It's a good time for Ilyasova now, returning to the NBA and Milwaukee, a city he enjoyed during his two years here. Next summer he will enjoy another challenge as Turkey plays host to the 2010 World Championship.

"People (in Turkey) are really expecting good things to happen, and we will see," said Ilyasova, whose country placed eighth in the EuroBasket tournament after a torrid start. "We showed the world we can play Basketball."

But right now the Bucks are Ilyasova's primary focus as he tries to show that previous and current management were correct for putting their trust in him.

"He shoots the ball too well to not get minutes," Bogut said. "He'll play. You have a guy like him who's very active offensively, a great rebounder and can shoot the ball; I think he'll find minutes."

Copyright 2009, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

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Added: October 2, 2009


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