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Turkey Enjoying Strong Support at World Championships - 2002-09-02

Host United States is appearing in this year's World Basketball Championship with a roster filled with professional players, but without many of the top National Basketball Association stars. The U.S. team is hoping stands filled with American fans will help give it a winning edge. But there is another national team is also counting on strong fan support.

At the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea lies Turkey, far from the heartland of the United States. But at the 14th World Basketball Championship, thousands of Turkish fans have come to Indianapolis to cheer for the national team.

Hidayet Turkoglu, who plays for the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association, says his team is trying hard to respond to the throngs of Turkish fans. "I want to thank all the fans who have been supporting us since we came the United States. We just have to win the games so we can make them happy."

Turkish flags, carried by people wearing red and white shirts, can be seen throughout downtown Indianapolis. During every game of the tournament, whether Turkey is on the court or not, banners are displayed that say "Turkey Welcomes You." And, on Saturday, the public was invited to a big Turkish party at a nearby park.

The gathering, filled with Turkish food, music, and an appearance by the national basketball team was organized by Yabuz Aktas, head of the Turkish consulate in Chicago. He tells VOA Sports where the Turkish fans came from. "They are from the United States. And only about 300 people came from Turkey to watch the games."

The strong national pride and heritage held by the Turkish-American community is evident, as they are vocal in support of their basketball team at the World Championship tournament.