Apr 4, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) and Denver Nuggets forward Jeff Green (32) react after a play during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
A conversation with Rockets center Alperen Sengun about his second NBA season and the importance of next season
Alperen Sengun has seen his numbers jump across the board in his first year as the Rockets’ starting center. He’s averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game this season and became the youngest player in Rockets history to finish a game with a triple-double.
On Friday, Sengun talked with Gallery Sports about what he’s done well this season, why next season is so important, and how he’s adjusted to life in Houston from Turkey.
Gallery Sports: How do you evaluate the way you’ve played this season?
Alperen Sengun: “I think I’ve improved my 3-point shooting. I think I’m better on defense right now, too. I think this season has been great for me. Sometimes I’ve played bad, but we have a lot of games, so that’s going to happen.”
Last year you played, but you weren’t playing a lot of minutes, you weren’t starting, and you didn’t have the ball as much. How do you think you’ve handled the physical aspect of starting, playing 25-30, sometimes 35 minutes each night?
“I worked a lot last summer, and all my life I was playing a lot of minutes, 30-35 minutes, and I was used to it, but last season I was playing 20 minutes, and one game if I played 35 minutes I was dying cause I wasn’t used to it, but right now I’m used to it, and I’m playing a lot of minutes, and I’m feeling good.”
Does your body feel really good 77 games into the season?
“Of course I’m feeling tired sometimes, but you’re finding energy. Sometimes there’s an off day, and it’s important how you’re spending your off day time, and I’m just sleeping well, eating well, that gives you energy.”
Defensively is always going to be the thing.
They’ve had you in drop coverage a lot, do you think at times you can get sucked in too deep toward the rim?
“It’s been like this all season. We’re sometimes changing, I’m going up, or I have low man. Whatever coach says, I’m trying to do, just whatever they want. If they want drop defense, I’ll play drop defense, if they want me defending outside, I’ll defend outside, I’m just trying to improve in drop defense because I’m not too tall, I’m not a shot blocker, so it’s hard to do drop defense, but I’m just trying to figure it out because I have never done it.”
Would you be more comfortable if you were in more of a switching scheme?
“Actually no, because we have a lot of fast players in the NBA, so it’s hard, but if we’re switching and helping each other, why not?”
You’re in America for a second year now, how has that transition been? Are you comfortable living here now?
“When I came here, I was excited because it’s America. Of course, it was hard when I came here the first time, but I’m used to it now, and I have friends, and everyone is helping me. When I first came here, my (English) was a problem, but right now it’s not a problem for me, and everything is easy for me, and I like it here. Everything is good. Weather is good, food is good. Of course, I’m missing Turkey, but I’m here, my second home is here.”
You’re doing this without a translator, that’s a pretty big step.
“Yeah, I remember when I (first) came here I didn’t know any English. I’m looking back on that now, and it’s very different.”
Do you have a group of Turkish friends in Houston?
“I have a couple of friends, of course. When I came here they helped me a lot too, and a lot of my friends have come from Turkey to watch me play.”
You were able to raise over $40,000 after the earthquake in Turkey, and you had some help from your teammates. What did it mean to you that you were able to help your country during that time?
“That was a hard time for me, really, because my people lost a lot, and I was just thinking about them. That made me lose my focus here, and that time was a hard time because I’m trying to stay focused because we have a game every two days here. It was a hard time for me, and I didn’t play well.”
Are you planning on doing something to help victims when you get back home after the season?
“If they need help, I’ll of course help. I did a lot of help from here with my friends, and if they really need my help again, I’ll do it, of course.”
Turkey didn’t qualify for the World Cup, so do you have any national team responsibilities that you’re going to take part in this summer?
“I’m not sure yet. I think we have a couple of games, but we’ll see what’s going on. I’ll go if the team will let me go or not, I guess we’ll see.”
In terms of basketball, what do you want to focus on over the course of the summer?
“This summer is so important for me because it’s my third season, and these first two seasons were about learning, and next season has to be good for me. I need to work hard, I’m gonna work hard. I’m going to come to camp, and I’m going to be focused on my body and my shooting and my footwork.”
What makes the third year so important?
“We learned a lot these first two years, but we didn’t play for something. I think we need to play in the playoffs, and we need to be a good team next year. Everyone needs to be better than they were this season and play for each other, and I need to play better defense, too.”
You’ve got wins over the Celtics (in March). You beat the Lakers and Pelicans (in March). Can you feel that this is starting to come together, and you’re starting to build something where you could be a good team next year?
“I’m telling them all the time, when we’re playing with each other, when everyone is happy and supporting each other like a team, we are playing very well, but sometimes we lose focus. I think it’s really important that we support each other because, for example, I’m playing bad, and my teammates are coming to me (and criticizing me), that makes (my confidence) go down, but when you’re playing bad, and your teammates are coming to you and saying, ‘Good job, it’s ok, it’s just one game,’ it makes you feel better. I think that’s really important for me and for everyone when they do this.”