SALT LAKE CITY — Omer Asik has watched Utah basketball games with extra interest since 2004.
Big Jazz fan?
The Rockets center smiled when asked that.
“I was just watching basketball,” he said.
The Jazz were one of the basketball teams he watched on occasion from Europe, but mostly because of a fellow Turkish center on the squad.
As a teen in Turkey, Asik, now 27 years old, paid attention to one of the country’s best basketball exports, who played in Utah from 2004-10.
“When I was in Turkey and started playing basketball, I was always looking up to him, how he plays,” Houston’s fourth-year pro said. “He (Okur) had a great career. Too bad he had to finish early because of the injuries, but I was always watching him (and) how he plays.”
Asik is quite familiar with the younger Turkish center in Utah he played against Monday. Enes Kanter and Asik played for Turkey’s senior national team five years ago when the Jazz center was just 16 years old.
“I knew that he was going to be a very good player even at that age. He was like really strong and working hard to get better,” Asik said. “Now this year he has an opportunity to show himself, and he’s playing great, I think.”
Kanter and Asik are among four Turkish players currently in the NBA. Turkey, which won a silver medal behind the U.S. in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, is also represented in the league by Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova and Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu.
Kanter and Asik both said it’s fun to play against compatriots in the United States.
“It’s always good to see other Turkish players on the court playing in the NBA,” Kanter said. “To represent a country, it’s really important.”
Kanter has fond memories of playing against Asik during national-team scrimmages.
“He’s a really good player,” 21-year-old Kanter said of his compatriot. “If he comes with a lot of energy, then he’s got a lot of talent.”
POINT FORWARD?: Rookie Trey Burke increased his scoring average to 11.2 points per game heading into Monday’s game.
But he wasn’t aware of a stat that’s pretty odd for a Jazz point guard. Through his first six pro games, the 6-1 playmaker was averaging more rebounds (3.5 rpg) than assists (3.0 rpg).
“I didn’t know that. Yeah, that’s a little strange for me,” Burke said, chuckling. “Usually I’m the type of guy that has more assists than rebounds.”
In college, Burke averaged 16.9 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 boards during two seasons at Michigan.
Burke anticipates his assist numbers will climb as he becomes more comfortable with the Jazz offense and his new teammates.
“I think that just comes with the rhythm, the flow and the chemistry with everybody else,” Burke said. “Me being in a brand-new system, trying to figure out everybody else’s position, where guys are supposed to be, when to attack, when to set guys up, I think that’s all just a feel for the game that I’m continuing to get better at.”
BRUTAL SCHEDULE: The NBA schedule-maker has given Utah a tough slate so far this season, and it only gets worse this week. The Jazz faced a 13-win team Monday at EnergySolutions Arena, host the league’s best team, Indiana, on Wednesday and then travel to surprisingly hot Portland on Friday.
“It’s going to be a tough stretch,” Kanter said, “but I know we have enough talent to beat every team. So, we’re just going to fight.”
NO THANKS: Kanter was asked at shootaround how his Thanksgiving holiday went.
“I didn’t celebrate,” he said. “No turkey for Turkey.”