At first glance, Hidayet (Hedo) Turkoglu seems to have the NBA angles all figured out. It's 75 minutes before the Kings will tip off at San Antonio, and the 22-year-old Sacramento swingman coolly flags down a locker-room attendant while giving an interview. "Can I get a pizza?" Turkoglu asks. "Mozzarella cheese. No toppings." When the small Pizza Hut box arrives, however, Turkoglu betrays his naivet� by earnestly offering a reporter the first slice. The move all but screams rookie!
Then again, Turkoglu (pronounced TUR-ko-lou) is no ordinary rookie. The second Turk to play in the league—Mirsad Turkcan came to the NBA in 1998-99—he took up the game when he was 10, tagging along when his older brother, Neyzat, would shoot hoops. He signed with the club Efes Pilsen in his hometown of Istanbul when he was 17, and two seasons later the club locked him up with a nine-year deal. By the time Turkoglu was 20, he was the best player in Turkey, a reputation he enhanced last year, when he averaged 13.6 points (on 62.6% shooting) in 22 tournament games to lead Efes Pilsen to the EuroLeague semifinals.
That's when Turkoglu shocked his parents and irked his club by giving the NBA a try. "I couldn't prove myself anymore over there," Turkoglu says. "Everybody told me to stay, but I want to be with the best players." After Sacramento drafted him with the 16th pick and signed him to a four-year, $5.6 million deal, Turkoglu paid $1.5 million to buy out his contract with Efes Pilsen.
Turkoglu can shoot, pass and handle the ball, and though he carries only 220 pounds on his 6'8" frame, he has shown a willingness to bang with the NBA's big bodies. Through Sunday he was averaging 5.3 points and 2.9 rebounds and had forced his way into Sacramento's veteran rotation. More impressive is the assurance he has shown on the court, including his un-rookie-like penchant for waving his teammates away when he has the ball so he can have room to create from the wing. That confidence is one reason the Kings believe Turkoglu has the makings of a star. "He's not afraid to do anything," says coach Rick Adelman. "He's not afraid to take the shot; he's not afraid to mix it up. He's got that mental toughness you need to be good."
That toughness has served Turkoglu well in rapidly adjusting to a new culture and language. He was fortunate to land on a Kings team with Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, who would call out defensive rotations to Turkoglu in Serbian, his parents' native tongue. Before long, though, Turkoglu was so chatty in the locker room that his penchant for calling teammates Brother Vlade and Brother Peja was appropriated by the rest of the Kings. "Now it's 'Brother Everybody' in here," says Chris Webber. "It's our catchphrase."
Brother Hedo has already persuaded his parents, with whom he speaks twice a day, that he did the right thing in leaving for the NBA. They, along with his countrymen, can follow his exploits in the Turkish media or on nba.com, on which Turkoglu's page has logged a half-million hits, ranking among the league leaders. "I wanted to compare myself with the best," Turkoglu says. "If I can play in the NBA, then I am one of the best in the world."