LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova is a tantalizing talent whose confidence can fade quicker than his jump shot, though a recent dose of self-belief has him firing in both departments.
On some nights, the 6-foot-10 (2.08m) Ilyasova resembles a Turkish Dirk Nowitzki, with his high-arcing jumper appearing as endless as his potential.
There are also stretches, as evidenced early in the 2012-13 National Basketball Association (NBA) season, when the 25-year-old Turk looks unsure and out of place; a big man who prefers the perimeter to the paint, an international player trying to secure his place with the Bucks.
But with a new head coach and a new outlook, Ilyasova feels that those dark days are long behind him.
“The season started slow for me, there were ups and downs,” Ilyasova, who has come on strong lately and is averaging 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds, told Reuters on Wednesday while in Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers.
“We’ve changed the culture and I’m feeling confident and trying to build on that. I’m looking forward to playing much better.”
Milwaukee’s culture change came in January when the team mutually parted ways with head coach Scott Skiles after a 16-16 start to the campaign.
Under Skiles, Ilyasova’s minutes were limited and he often came off the bench. Despite the team giving Ilyasova a five-year, $40 million contract in the off-season, following his breakout 2011-2012 campaign, he was unable to win over the notoriously tough Skiles.
“Some games he would not play you and never really explained,” Ilyasova said. “We disagreed. It was frustrating.”
Milwaukee promoted assistant Jim Boylan to interim coach and he immediately restored Ilyasova as a permanent starter.
The move paid quick dividends in late January where Ilyasova again flashed his potential during a three-game stint where he had a combined 84 points and 37 rebounds.
Ilyasova’s production has remained high - he is averaging 18.6 points per game in March and making 43 percent of his three-point attempts on the season - as the Bucks established a 7 1/2-game lead on the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and that’s big for him,” Boylan said. “When his confidence is high he’s a very productive player. We’re happy with the progress he’s making. As an organization we can look at a guy and say here’s someone who has a spot that’s his and we can build around it.”
Milwaukee seems an odd fit for Ilyasova but it is the only NBA home he has ever known despite a career of globetrotting.
Born in Eskisehir, he turned professional as a teenager for Turkish team Ulkerspor.
Ilyasova was drafted by the Bucks in 2005, but after two years of development left to play with FC Barcelona in Spain. In 2009, he returned to Milwaukee.
Milwaukee is where Ilyasova met his wife Julia and, despite the sometimes frigid temperatures, is where he spends the bulk of his time when not playing for the Turkish National Team.
Through it all, Ilyasova’s world travels have offered a subtle assist to his game. He knows that things can change quickly and strong performances come and go, but he is better equipped to handle it now.
“You play for different teams, you gain knowledge and learn how to win games (differently),” he said. “Some days you can’t make a shot, but maybe you can help on the glass or defensively. There are a lot of different things you can do in one game.
“You have to stick with it.”
Editing by Frank Pingue