HAVRE — Gokcenur Aslan knows her name is tough for most of her teammates to pronounce, so she’s found a way around it.
“It’s just ‘G,’” she laughed. “I go by ‘G,’ I’ve been ‘G’ since I moved to the America.”
Aslan, originally from Turkey, is the starting point guard for the Montana State-Northern Skylights and is leading the team in minutes, steals and assists as a senior transfer.
“I like passing more than anything,“ she said. “It just feels great, because I created something for them and helped the team and we just scored.”
Aslan said she models her game after Chris Paul, but she’s only become a fan of his recently. Growing up in Turkey, she was a big NBA fan, but it wasn’t players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryan or Michael Jordan who drew her to the game at first.
“It was the 2004 Detroit Pistons,” she laughed. “That was the first time I started playing basketball, and I was way into the NBA. I wouldn’t sleep, it would be like 3 a.m. and I would wake up and just watch their games.”
So what was it about that team?
“I just liked how they didn’t have a big star like a LeBron,” she said. “I loved Ben Wallace, he was my first favorite player. Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton. Those five just played like a team should. They were the one that made me love basketball.”
The love of basketball sustained her through her youth playing for Turkish club teams and traveling around the country for tournaments against top competition.
Eventually she pursued her love of basketball in the United States, where she could play hoops and get an education — an option that wasn’t available in her home country.
“I’ve been playing basketball from like 13 years and in Turkey, after high school you need to pick either turning professional or going to school,” she explained. “And I wanted to do both. So I did some research and found opportunities in America.”
Her first stop was Western Nebraska College, a community college in Scottsbluff. It was a big step in a new environment, and her English left a lot to be desired in those first few weeks.
“I was terrible, and I still don’t think I’m the good at it, but I’m working on it,” she laughed. “When I first came, I was really bad. I remember the first time I was trying to speak with my roommate, it was really hard. I had to Google translate everything and look up stuff.”
But she was fluent in the language of basketball.
“I never really had problems understanding my coaches,” she said. “Because basketball language is the same everywhere.”
Other stops followed in pursuit of better academic and athletic fits. Aslan spent her sophomore season at Highland Community College in Illinois. After sitting out the 2016-17 season, she transferred to Division II Fort Hays State University back in Kansas.
At 5-foot-2, Aslan didn’t see the court much for the powerhouse Tigers and went in search of a new home for her final year of eligibility. That’s where MSU-Northern came in.
“Lots of emails and telephone calls,” laughed Skylights coach Chris Mouat. “She’s a business major and it fit right into graduating here. So it’s a one-year deal and we’ll try to enjoy her, because she’s a lot of fun. ‘G’ is pretty dynamic. She’s not very tall, but she’s very savvy handling the basketball.”
Havre was definitely like no place she’d ever been. But she instantly felt welcomed.
“It’s small and it’s colder than I’m used to,” she said. “But there are great people here who help the program, and I really like that.”
The Skylights (9-9 overall, 1-5 Frontier Conference) have struggled at points this season, with several key players missing time due to injury. But they earned their first Frontier Conference win over the weekend and are steadily improving, thanks in part Aslan, a steady veteran presence averaging 36 minutes per night.
“I think we have pretty talented players,” Aslan said. “We had some injuries and games we should have won, and everyone can see that. And now we have the players back. Once they’re ready to play, we’ll be really good.”
Even if you can’t pronounce her name, you should definitely know it.