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23/06/2015 16:36
I feel both Turkish and Bosnian – Meliha Ismailoglu
2015 European Games

Baku, Azerbaijan, June 23, 2015. You probably know Turkey’s Meliha Ismailoglu as the strong outside spiker who is always on the hunt for her next kill spike. What you maybe don’t know is that the 21-year old could have ended up pursuing a career as a basketball player in her native Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When she stands in the corner behind the court at the majestic Crystal Hall in Baku following and cheering her teammates on, she looks exactly like the rest of the Turkish team: a little dark in her skin, with brown hair, and she openly shows her emotions and feelings.  
Her name also sound Turkish, but Meliha Ismailoglu was actually born Meliha Smajlovic. The last name is Bosnian as she was born in the town of Gradacac in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As daughter of a former professional basketball player she too aspired to shoot hoops instead of spiking. “Actually, I wanted to play basketball. But since there were not any clubs in my city at that time, I started to play volleyball,” she recounts.
She began her career at the age of eight in the club Kula Gradacac in her hometown. She was awarded ‘Player of the Year’ in her come country in 2009 and 2011 and displayed her skills on the court for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s youth and junior national teams. But the talented player had bigger dreams.
“I wanted to go abroad to study and play volleyball. I had some cousins in Turkey, so we asked them if there were any clubs that would like to have a young player like me to come and play. I had a trial with Iller Bankasi in Ankara, they liked me and offered me a contract,” she recalls.
The contract was signed in 2011 and nine months later she acquired Turkish citizenship.
“The first year was hard. I did not know the language and there were only a few people that knew English. It was really hard. But I pushed myself to learn the language and to improve myself in Volleyball so I can be where I am now,” she says.
Meliha Ismailoglu now speaks fluent Turkish. The 21-year old is glad that she made the transition from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Turkey.

“It was a great opportunity for me to play for the Turkish national team. Turkey is playing at a much higher level than Bosnia, so it was a big opportunity for me to go there as a player in my developing stages to learn. I came straight to the A-Team. It was a big experience. I would not have had the same opportunities with Bosnia. I hope we win the European Games now,” she says.  

In May 2014, Meliha Ismailoglu took another leap in her blooming career and signed a contract with the Yellow Angels of Fenerbahce with whom she won the Turkish league and Cup trophy last season.
2014 was also the year where she made her debut for the Turkish national team playing the CEV Volleyball European League and helping Turkey win their first historic gold in the competition.  
With her Bosnian roots and now being a member of the Turkish national team at the first ever European Games, you somehow naturally end up asking her if she now feels Turkish.
“Actually, I feel both Turkish and Bosnian. It has been five years since I came to Turkey, so I am used to living there. I feel like being a big part of the team. We are all the same in the Turkish team,” she says.
To finish where we started, we asked why Meliha Ismailoglu changed her last name from Smajlovic.

“There is a rule in Turkey. You need to change your last name since it cannot finish in –ovic there. I do not know why, I did not want to change it. But I had to. People from my club wanted the new name to be similar to my former one, so in the end we found Ismailoglu,” she says.

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