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Monday, October 25, 2021
<p dir="ltr"><span>Florida guard Funda Nakkasoglu leads the Gators with 16.3 points per game this season, roughly six points higher than the next player.</span></p><p><span> </span></p>

Florida guard Funda Nakkasoglu leads the Gators with 16.3 points per game this season, roughly six points higher than the next player.

 

Growing up, Funda Nakkasoglu wondered why she couldn’t have a “normal” name.

Hers was certainly an unusual one in Hampton, Australia, a small, chic suburb outside of Melbourne.

Her father and mother, Can and Meneske, chose her name for a few reasons.

They liked the sound of it. They liked that “Australians were able to read and pronounce it correctly at the first attempt”: FOON-da.

They also liked how it was derived from nature. Funda is a bushy plant with purple flowers native to Anatolia, the peninsula which makes up most of Can’s home nation of Turkey.  If it wasn’t for her name, you’d have no idea Florida’s star guard with an Australian accent is an up-and-comer for the Turkish women’s national basketball team.

***

Although it’s not renowned for its basketball talent, there is a basketball culture “Down Under.”

“It’s one of the major sports,” Funda said. “Basketball and netball are probably the frontrunners after [Australian rules football].”

By the time she could walk, basketball was ingrained into Funda. Can gave her a ball to play with and always had basketball on TV. He had a hoop in the backyard, and reckoned that it was a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality that got his daughter hooked on the game. The two went to games together, and by the time Funda was 7, she was playing organized ball with a local team.

“When she started to play team basketball, she stood out,” Can said. “Funda was a very experienced 7 years old.”

Can played basketball professionally in Turkey, where Meneske played volleyball.

“[My mom] always says, ‘I was too late, your dad caught you first,’” Funda said.

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With his basketball career cut short due to injuries, Can and Meneske lived in a few different countries. Drawn by the exotic lure, as well as a solid job market and some friends already there, they made Australia stick.

“[We] saved some money for a bit of adventure and decided to try living in Australia for a while,” Can said. “That while has become thirty years in 2019.”

 ***

Funda’s knowledge of the Turkish language comes and goes. She’s lived in an English speaking country her whole life.

“I’m really good at understanding [Turkish] because my parents have spoken it at home,” she said. “It’s the talking part that gets me sometimes, and they say that I do have an Australian accent.”

Despite her heritage and annual trips to Turkey, Funda said she feels more Australian.

“I had been born there,” she said. “I had been raised there. I, absolutely, always felt like that was my home.”

It was in Australia where she blossomed into a basketball talent. Funda routinely represented her state, Victoria, in national competitions. However, she was never contacted by the Australian National Team to play internationally.

She was presented with that chance by her parents’ home country instead.

“That’s why, when Turkey called me, I was immediately like ‘Yeah, there’s an opportunity,’” she said.

Funda’s first outing for Turkey, the sixth-best national team in the world according to FIBA, was a practice game against France in Slovenia. The friendly match took place in a training gym without any fans. Still, it was an experience Funda will never forget.

“When I saw my jersey, when I saw my number, just seeing the emblem,” she said, “it was surreal.”

According to Can’s best recollection, that game occurred four years ago. Agonizingly, it wasn’t until more than three years later that the basketball-loving father first saw his daughter represent the country of his birth.

Turkey called her up to train and tryout for the 2016 Olympic squad. Funda couldn’t go because she was preoccupied with transferring from Utah State and was undecided about her future. She had to negotiate her release with Utah State, go on campus visits and take classes in order to transfer.

The national team would have to wait until after she found the University of Florida.

Can witnessed his daughter in a Turkish jersey for the first time in August 2018, when the team faced China, the world’s seventh-best team, in a World Cup preparation game. Can called seeing Funda take the floor his “proudest” moment.

The game was also emotional for Funda.

“That was a big pride moment,” she said. “It was a big thing knowing that I could make my parents proud.”

The experience turned sour midway through the first quarter when she was knocked out of the game after she took a hit to the nose, which had been broken previously. Shortly thereafter, she broke her rib in training and missed the World Cup – the “most hurtful” moment for her dad from a basketball standpoint.

Despite the limited playing time because of injuries, school and other commitments, Funda believes that she gained a lot of experience playing with the national team, which has benefitted her as a player.

“That helped me grow a lot – mentally, physically – just seeing a lot of different aspects,” she said. “I tried being like a sponge over there.”

Since her return to Florida, Funda’s production has increased. She leads the Gators with 16.3 points per game this year (compared to 14.9 last year), which is more than six points higher than the next player, guard Delicia Washington. Florida coach Cam Newbauer has seen how her work ethic has affected her increase in production.

“Wants to compete, wants to win, wants to be better every day, wants to lead her teammates. Selfless,” Newbauer said of his leading scorer. “We’d really like to see us finish strong for her. She’s a very deserving young lady who’s worked and spent countless hours in the gym, not just here in America.”

Funda still hasn’t decided on what she wants to do when the season concludes and her time at UF ends.

“I’d love to pursue a professional basketball career if I could afterwards, and then see what comes forth after that,” she said. “Maybe play in Europe for a few years, maybe go back and play in Australia for a few years.”

But one thing is certain: The woman with an Australian accent who plays for the Turkish national team has been a revelation in a down season for the Gators (6-20, 2-11 SEC).

Funda Nakkasoglu has blossomed in her time at Florida and with the national team. And like the plant she’s named after, she’s unequivocally Turkish. This Funda, however, has Australian roots.

“I am half-Turkish,” Nakkasoglu said before catching herself. “I mean, I’m full Turkish, but because I was born in Australia, I would say half-Turkish, half-Australian.”

Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano and contact him at scampisano@alligator.org. 

Florida guard Funda Nakkasoglu leads the Gators with 16.3 points per game this season, roughly six points higher than the next player.

 

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