By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The TD Garden had all but emptied out except for a dozen or so basketball fans, some carrying camera phones along with red flags that had a white Crescent moon with a star in the center.
It is the national flag of Turkey, and those fans waited patiently to see Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu and Boston's Semih Erden, arguably the face (Turkoglu) and future (Erden) of Turkish basketball.
Another one of Turkey's top NBA imports, Utah's Mehmet Okur, will be at the Garden later this week.
So for Erden, this week will be a chance to not only catch up with a couple of teammates from his national team, but also another opportunity to learn from players he grew up idolizing as a youngster.
"We are all very close because of national team," Erden told CSNNE.com. "We are like family."
And Turkoglu, the first Turkish-born player to play in the NBA, is the undisputed leader of the Turkish migration to the NBA.
It is a role that Turkoglu does not take lightly.
"I'm trying to be a big brother, take care of them and help them out as much as I can," Turkoglu, a former first-round draft pick, told CSNNE.com. "When we play against each other, we get together. We talk every week, see what's going on. It's a general thing we do all the time. I'm happy about that."
While Erden has been taking classes to improve his English, Turkoglu improved his speaking skills by reading books, magazines and watching television.
"I used to watch the Martin Lawrence show," Turkoglu said. "And then 'Friends,' definitely 'Friends.' One of my favorites all time. Start to get to know, 'Everybody Loves Raymond'; just keep watching different shows, and like I said, the talking really helped me out. The more you talk, the more you speak, the more you learn, using words."
All those tips have helped Erden, but he said the biggest lessons he has learned from Turkoglu involved advice on how to survive in the NBA.
"He knows better than me; he is experienced," Erden said. "He says you have to be focused every time. And one other important thing. You have to be patient. It's not easy. It's not easy for you to play in the NBA because your first year, you have to be a rookie. It's not easy."
Erden began the season as just another big for the Celtics who was looked upon to provide added depth. Injuries, more than anything else, seemed to catapult him up the depth chart. He has even started four games this season, the only C's rookie to do so this season.
Now, he's out of the rotation while fellow rookie Luke Harangody is logging the minutes he used to get.
While there are some who might become frustrated with this unexpected turn of events, Erden said it doesn't bother him because it's something that, in talks with Turkoglu and Okur, didn't catch him by surprise.
"Now I know, they're right. It's not easy being NBA rookie," Erden, who did not play (coaches decision) on Monday, says with a wide grin. "I appreciate them. They're good guys. They are good persons. They help me a lot."
And as Erden walks away, surrounded by fans from Turkey and Turkoglu, he says, "I am patient. I will stay ready to play, always."