Basketball star grieves for earthquake victims in her native Turkey while leading surging Huskies into CAA tournament

Derin Erdogan posing for a portrait
“It was really sad to think about everything that happened,” says Derin Erdogan, the Huskies’ All-CAA point guard. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

On the court all seemed well for junior point guard Derin Erdogan as the Huskies won their final eight basketball games to claim their first share of the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season women’s basketball title.

But in her heart she was struggling in the aftermath of the Feb. 6 earthquake that killed at least 45,000 people in her native Turkey and Syria.

Third-seeded Northeastern opens the CAA women’s tournament in Towson, Maryland, at 7:30 p.m. Friday (streaming on FloHoops) against sixth-seeded Stony Brook (18-12 overall, 11-7 in conference). The Huskies (18-11, 13-5) will be driven by Erdogan, who made the All-CAA first team while leading Northeastern with 14.7 points and 3.8 assists per game. 

“It’s been really hard,” says Erdogan, who is from Istanbul and has represented Turkey internationally in youth tournaments. “It was really sad to think about everything that happened.”

Derin Erdogan dribbling the basketball down the court
Erdogan (right) and Halle Idowu enter the postseason having helped Northeastern earn its first CAA women’s basketball regular-season title. Photo by Jim Pierce

Her family and friends live in a region that was spared the destruction, thankfully. But the reports of suffering have devastated her. She has been dwelling especially on athletes who have died.

“There was a girl I used to play against in the Turkish league and, unfortunately, she passed away,” Erdogan says. “She wasn’t my friend. But just knowing her and hearing what happened to her…”

Erdogan says she has received support from her teammates and Bridgette Mitchell, named CAA coach of the year in her second season at Northeastern. They made donations and helped Erdogan organize a clothes drive to help people in Turkey via Northeastern’s Turkish Student Association.

The winning streak began three days after the earthquake. Erdogan scored 10 of her 19 points in the final quarter as the Huskies converted seven of their final eight shots in a 68-63 home victory over Stony Brook. 

“It was very hard to think about something else,” Erdogan says of the earthquake, its devastating aftershocks and the hardships endured by its survivors. 

She was torn between the tragic events of her homeland and the responsibilities she carries in Boston, her new home, as a leader of the Huskies.

Erdogan had spent her first two NCAA seasons as a reserve guard at Arizona, where she learned to adapt to the faster tempo of American basketball. When she earned a few minutes last year in an NCAA tournament win, she responded with several big plays. That renewed inspiring memories of the 2018 Under-16 European Championships, where she led Turkey to a fourth-place finish and drew the interest of American coaches.

“In Arizona I was getting better every day,” says Erdogan, who entered the NCAA transfer portal. “But I knew it was time for me to take leadership of a team.”

Her availability coincided with Mitchell’s ambition to quickly transform the Northeastern program. After going 14-18 (8-10 in CAA) in her first season as a head coach, Mitchell made changes to her staff and brought in eight new players. She recruited the 5 foot, 6 inch point guard by taking her to a Turkish restaurant (“We’ve got everything in Boston,” the coach told her) and then sitting with Erdogan to break down video of her intuitive playmaking.

“I tell people all the time, she’s the best ball-screen reader in the country,” Mitchell says of Erdogan’s ability to manage the pick-and-roll. “You set a ball screen for her, she’s going to come off of that thing with a great feel to use her body to create her own shot if needed. Or she finds the post player if they roll hard and they’re open. She has the IQ to make the play behind to the guard rising or in front, depending on what the defense does. We do ball-screen reads all the time as a team, but there are things that she does instinctually.” 

Mitchell wanted her team to play hard, care for each other and run in transition as often as possible. But so much new talent was never going to mesh instantly. After opening February with losses to Drexel and Delaware that dropped the Huskies to 10-11 overall and 5-5 in the conference, Mitchell called the players together.

“I had a hard meeting with them,” Mitchell says. “I said, ‘What kind of team do we want to be?’ We had to do some soul searching and gut checking, and the team really bought into that and owned it. We talk a lot about how success is no accident—it is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all the love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

The message inspired Erdogan, who had worked hard and traveled far for this opportunity at Northeastern.

“I love being the point guard and leading the team,” she says. “You’re basically the second coach on the court. Instead of scoring all the time, I love giving passes and being creative.”

In her heart and mind, Erdogan had to balance tragic events beyond her control with the dream that was suddenly within her reach—a mission shared with her teammates and coaches.

“All of my social media, it was all about the earthquake,” Erdogan says. “I had to stop looking at them just so I could mentally feel OK again.”

But she did not forget.

“In my head I am playing for the people who suffer and the people who passed away,” Erdogan says. “Do you know the way you talk to yourself before the game? My main thing is to focus and play for the people in Turkey.”

Joining Erdogan in Northeastern’s startling transformation have been a variety of teammates including junior forward Deja Bristol, recent winner of the CAA sixth player award, and sophomore guard Gemima Motema, who made the CAA All-Defensive team and the All-CAA third team. 

If the hot Huskies win three CAA games in Maryland—thus extending their streak to 11 straight victories—they’ll earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history. Not since 1999 has the program experienced March Madness. Erdogan believes she can help make a difference.

“I love playing tournaments—it’s win or go home so you’ve got to give your best every time,” Erdogan says. “I know how to be in that mentality, so I’m really excited. I cannot wait.”

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.