When 6-foot-9 Gokhan Sirin arrived at St. Mary's Ryken (Leonardtown, Md.) in August as an exchange student from Istanbul, Knights head basketball coach Dave Tallman saw a 190-pound big man who was athletic and could shoot, but didn't really understand how basketball is played in America.
By the end of the season, Sirin made the adjustment and is likely to earn All-Conference and All-State accolades for his senior year.
"The physical, competitive side of how basketball is played here, as well as the fast pace and the athleticism of American players were all new to Sirin," Tallman told ESPN RISE. "Gokhan can really shoot the ball -- he also sees the floor well and has good floor skills."
Sirin has three formal Division I college scholarship offers and Tallman believes that more schools will offer Sirin before the next NCAA signing period in April.
"Gokhan has firm scholarship offers from Duquesne, Loyola and Charlotte, but some high Division I colleges are watching him," Tallman said.
"I do want to play basketball in college in America," Sirin said. "I want to play basketball here and get a good education. I am working hard on lifting weights, getting stronger and making myself better as a player."
Sirin increased his weight to a more solid 201 pounds and according to Tallman is working hard in the weight room to improve his strength.
St. Mary's Ryken plays in the ultra-competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, which features powerhouse programs like Bishop McNamara, DeMatha, Gonzaga (D.C.) and Good Counsel.
SMR graduated several players from its 2007-08 team that finished 13-15. This year's Knights squad finished 11-16 in the regular season, but defeated Archbishop Carroll in the conference play-in game.
"We were pretty young and we had to integrate some new players, bring along some younger kids, but we played better as the year went on and Gokhan was a big part of us improving," Tallman said. "Gokhan averaged about 17 points and seven rebounds this year, but he averaged about 22 points over the last five or six games."
In the Knights' win over Carroll, Sirin scored 27 points and hit five 3-pointers. In the team's loss to DeMatha, Sirin was one of the team's leading scorers with eight points.
"Gokhan is a really great kid. He is a very hard worker on the court and wants to be successful in school and basketball," Tallman said. "He is very motivated to be successful and be as good as he can be. He is a real gym rat and a real hard worker."
James Quinn covers high school basketball for MDVarsity.com