ST. FRANCIS – Many an NBA career has been ruined by the almighty dollar.
Milwaukee Bucks young forward Ersan Ilyasova is determined not to let that happen to him.
After having a breakout 2011-2012 season, Ilyasova hit the jackpot during free agency this summer. He signed a lucrative contract that will guarantee him $31.6 million over the next four seasons with a team option for $8.4 million in the fifth season.
With his financial future virtually set, Ilyasova could have easily got lazy and out of shape during the offseason as some other players in his position have done in the past.
Instead, Ilyasova rededicated himself to honing his game even more.
“It doesn’t work that way for me,” Ilyasova said when asked if he was tempted to perhaps ease up on his work regimen after signing his huge contract. “That’s not my nature.
“The thing with this contract ... there comes responsibility with it. People are expecting more, so that’s why I spent the summer working with a coach to try and improve myself.”
In past summers, Ilyasova returned to his homeland of Turkey to be with family and friends and play for the Turkish national team. This summer, Ilyasova went to Florida and not for some fun in the sun.
The 25-year-old Ilyasova hired a personal strength coach for the first time in his career with the sole intent of transforming his rather slender physique into a more pumped-up and defined body.
“I spent my summer in Juno Beach, Florida,” Ilyasova said. “I was there like maybe three months. I worked out three times a week.
“I hired a strength coach. I don’t want to say his name; I want to keep it secret because he was so good. He’s worked with NFL type guys. He helped me a lot.”
That’s reflective in Ilyasova’s new-and-improved body. He’s noticeably stronger in the arms and shoulder areas. He has also increased his weight to 245 pounds, 15 more than last season.
Ilyasova contends the added strength and weight will pay off, that it will enable him to complement his exceptional perimeter game — he shot a scorching 46 percent from 3-point range last season — with a more effective low-post game.
If that does come to fruition, Ilyasova could be on his way to being more than just a good player, which he definitely was during the second half of last season when he became a full-time starter.
In his last 27 games last season, the 6-foot-10 Ilyasova had 13 games in which he scored at least 18 points. He totaled 31 points against Toronto and 32 against Chicago.
Ilyasova was equally impressive as a rebounder: in the last 13 games, he collected at least 10 boards in eight games. He grabbed 16 rebounds against Memphis and 17 against New Jersey, now Brooklyn.
Ilyasova’s finest hour came in another game against New Jersey, when he recorded a double-double with 29 points and 25 rebounds. He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Swen Nater as the only Bucks in franchise history to register 25-25 or better games.
Ilyasova’s vast improvement last season came on the heels of a pedestrian 2010-2011 season when he averaged 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. It led him to being the runner-up to Orlando’s Ryan Anderson in voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Listening to Ilyasova, he fully expects to keep improving this season, thanks in part to his offseason regimen and in part to having a rare summer off from playing with the Turkish national team.
Ilyasova began playing professionally in Europe at the tender age of 15 and hass spent each and every summer since then with the Turkish national team. While Ilyasova embraced playing for his country, he conceded having this summer off was a welcome departure.
“When I played on the national team, we’d practice twice a day,” Ilyasova said. “By the middle of the (NBA) season, I’d feel kind of tired.
“This summer, I got some rest from playing and I could work more on my individual skills. And I got a little bit stronger and worked on my post-up game.
“I think it’ll be good for me to start a little more fresh at the beginning of the season.”
Bucks coach Scott Skiles concurs.
“This summer was a good opportunity for Ers to get more rest,” Skiles said. “He didn’t have national team duties. He’s come in here to camp the past couple of years where he played so much basketball leading up to camp that, while he was in a great shape, he also struggled to keep on the weight, to keep his body right.”
Ilyasova appears to be in great shape mentally as well. His expanded wallet hasn’t expanded his head. His work ethic hasn’t diminished.
Said Skiles, “He’s worked just as hard as he always has. He’s been very good. We’re all looking for a very good season from Ers.’’