Ersan Ilyasova joined the Bucks a year after Andrew Bogut did. He was a quiet teenager, just 19 years old, who could communicate in four languages: Turkish, Russian, Spanish, and bits of Serbian. But back in 2006, none of those languages was English, so he had a fair bit of work to do before he could converse with his new teammates.
Lori Nickel profiled Ilyasova’s surprisingly long history with the Bucks in a marvelous piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today. (Go and read the whole thing.) In it, she revealed that Bogut teased Ilyasova as he worked to assimilate himself to the culture of the United States.
The teasing irritated Ilyasova.
He knew exactly three English words: Yes, no and hi. He had no driver’s license.
“It was real tough on me. Different culture, different language,” Ilyasova said.
In 2006, Ilyasova worked his way into the Milwaukee rotation. To get acclimated, his Turkish agent drove Ilyasova around and translated for a couple of months.
He averaged 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds as a rookie with the Bucks and squeezed in English classes at Berlitz three times a week.
“It was really tough for me, sitting in a class all by myself,” Ilyasova said. “The way I really learned the language was watching TV or movies with the subtitles. If you don’t understand, you can read right away.”
But that wasn’t always easy either. The accents and dialect of the actors on TV weren’t always the same as talking to teammates or the locals.
“When you’re talking to the players, it’s like another language. They speak really quick and it’s different,” Ilyasova said.
And yet through all of his travels, and being so far from home, Ilyasova likes Milwaukee. He wants to be here. He once endured teasing from Bogut, who called him Borat, the satirical fictional character invented and performed by actor Sacha Baron Cohen.
“And it really ticked him off,” Babcock said. “But Ersan has a great sense of humor.”
Do count me as 100x not surprised that Bogut laid into Ilyasova. When comparing the two players, it’s plainly evident that one has an unassuming air of grace and humility and the other does not.
One player stayed. One left.
And Milwaukee won. They got to keep the player who wanted to be in Milwaukee all along — the one who started a family and set down roots, the one who actually likes the city and the team, and the one who can still do things of consequence on a basketball court.