NEWPORT, R.I. — The time zone in Turkey, that was the first big difference. If Colton Iverson wanted to talk to anybody back in the States, the time zone made it a hassle.
Food, that was another. A new language made buying anything hard enough, so he stuck to McDonald’s or Burger King or other American joints at first.
He finally had some Turkish fare at the team’s hotel during training camp; he was sick for a week.
But now, months later, the 7-foot rookie center out of Colorado State whom the Celtics acquired in the second round of the 2013 draft said he has adjusted to life overseas, where he’s playing professionally for Besiktas of the Turkish League.
“It’s a little culture shock at first, but it’s been great,” Iverson said in a Skype interview from Turkey Wednesday. “The people have been awesome.”
If life were perfect for Iverson, he’d have stayed with the Celtics, and been with them during camp here this week. But the team had to clear space on its bloated roster this offseason, particularly in the frontcourt, and there just wasn’t space for him — at least now.
Iverson, the 53d overall pick, said he knew that going in, and that he believed the Celtics believed in him enough that it was OK for him to go overseas for the time being.
So, Iverson is in Turkey, living in Istanbul, playing out a one-year contract while the Celtics own his rights.
“I look at it as a win-win situation for both of us because I get to play a lot of minutes this year and keep getting better,” Iverson said.
“If I continue getting better and have a successful season, I think the probability of me being in Boston hopefully is pretty good, but you never know what the future will hold so I’ll just keep getting better every day.”
The Celtics are keeping tabs on Iverson from afar.
“We’re excited about Colton,” said Austin Ainge, the team’s director of player personnel. “We think he can be an NBA roster player. We all need big guys on the bench that can guard Dwight Howard and Nikola Pekovic and Andrew Bynum, the big, big strong dudes.’’
Among the areas that the Celtics want Iverson to work on: free throw shooting, footwork, post moves, guarding without fouling, his midrange jumper, running the pick-and-roll.
“He’s a good kid,” Ainge said. “Really for him, it’s just polish. He’s a big, raw physical kid.”
The bruising Iverson had 27 points in an August win against a French team and received “top rebounder” honors in a September tournament. But he said the officiating in European basketball has been one of his biggest adjustments.
“You have to change your game, change your style of play,” he said. “You can’t really play the way you play in America, physically, offensively and defensively.”
But, Iverson said, he’s adjusted to how games are officiated and that he’s spending a lot of time working on the defensive end.
“I think my role in the NBA will definitely be an X-factor-type player, just defensively, getting stops, making hustle plays, rebounding, and being able to hold my man to low amounts of points,” he said. “I think if I can continue to get better on defense, that would be huge for me.”
Iverson said he’s also had contact with rookie Celtics coach Brad Stevens, whom Iverson said he has admired since Stevens coached at Butler University.
“When I heard he was going to be the head coach of the Celtics, I was about as excited as anyone,” Iverson said.
The two actually faced off in college during the 2009-10 season, when Iverson was at Minnesota. The Gophers were ranked No. 16 and Butler No. 10, and Iverson’s team pulled off the 82-73 upset, as he recorded 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Of course, the ultracompetitive Stevens brought up the game in a meeting with Iverson. “I hope [Stevens] doesn’t hold that against me,” Iverson joked.
All in the details
It seems the Celtics have already picked up on how important details are to Stevens.
Said guard Avery Bradley: “He really pays attention to detail. Every way. He wants to make sure we’re in the right spots, right angles on defense. He wants us to do everything perfect. He drills it into our heads. If we go through a play halfway, he’ll keep doing it — over and over again until we get it right.”
Said forward Kris Humphries: “I love the fact that the coaching staff, their attention to detail, we’ve been doing a lot of drills that may seem like, ‘Ahh, why are we doing this?’ But it’s important because one or two plays in a game that decide the game, usually at the end.”
Humphries added, “This is probably, coaching and stuff, the most detailed I’ve been coached, in terms of techniques on certain things. I think it’s great.”
And forward Brandon Bass said the biggest difference between Stevens and former coach Doc Rivers is, no surprise, “more attention to detail.”