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Onuralp Bitim’s Rise to the Top

Onrulap Bitim
(David Banks/USA Today Sports)

Back in November, I was fortunate enough to attend the media day for the Windy City Bulls. The G League affiliate of Chicago had plenty of recognizable names up and down the roster, including UConn’s Adama Sanogo and longtime big man Derrick Favors. I spoke to much of the roster to get their thoughts on the upcoming year and was overjoyed at getting to talk to so many guys I saw ball out in college or previously in the NBA. However, one player I had essentially no recollection of ever watching was a 6’6’’, 24-year-old shooting guard by the name of Onuralp Bitim

Fast forward to today, and Bitim is the talk of the town in the 312. In a thrilling two-overtime victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bitim posted 10 points and 6 rebounds in his first quality NBA minutes, knocking down both of his three-pointers and earning the respect of the Chicago faithful. For a squad in dire need of some help behind the arc, Bitim looked to be a savior of a Bulls team riddled with injuries and inconsistencies alike. So, where did this diamond in the rough even come from?


Who is Onuralp Bitim?

Bitim sat down next to me, looking dapper with his signature shooting sleeve on his left arm and tattoo sleeve on his left leg. I first asked him just how it felt sitting here in an NBA jersey.

“It feels good, it feels different. I mean, it’s something new, so that’s why it’s exciting for me, and I’m feeling good, and I think both as a team and individually, I think we will be good, and we will be better each and every day,” said Bitim. 

Bitim had a much different path to professional basketball than many of his Windy City teammates. Born in Turkey to two basketball-playing parents, Bitim, or ‘OB’ as he’s referred to by many of his teammates, excelled in his youth. He notched quality minutes in the FIBA U16 Euro Championship in 2014 and 2015 and even played alongside Rui Hachimura in the 2015 Jordan Brand Classic international game. Later that same year, Bitim enrolled at Huntington Prep Academy in West Virginia, spending a year playing ball there before returning to Turkey and beginning a very successful career in Turkish basketball. But it wasn’t until July of 2023 that the Bulls called and signed him to a two-way contract.

“I mean, of course, it’s different, so maybe I will need some time. I think it’s not too different because at the end of the day it’s basketball, and basketball is an international game…but also it’s a different type of basketball. The system is different, the game speed and everything is different here,” said Bitim. 

Bitim seemed to have little concern when I asked about adjusting to the NBA brand of hoops. That sort of attitude certainly helped him get off to a fast start in the G League this year. In 12 games, Bitim averaged 17 points along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Most importantly, he was efficient from deep, making 43.3% of his three-balls. Even though he’s technically a rookie, his time playing pro ball overseas already gives him years of experience.


Getting NBA Minutes

Onrulap Bitim

(Andy Diederich/Back Sports Page)

He kept at it when it came to his journey to the league: “I’m really happy to be here… I want to be here, I want to play here. That’s why I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get to the next step,” said Bitim. 

Bitim’s NBA debut came on November 4th but only saw three minutes of garbage time in a blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets. He additionally would play three minutes in another lopsided defeat against the Boston Celtics on February 22nd. But his time in those games, plus his body of work in the G League, must have lit a spark in the Bulls front office, as the next day, the Bulls converted his two-way contract to a standard NBA deal. Many questioned this decision, as it now fully filled the Bull’s roster and essentially took them out of the buyout market. Was this a mistake? Did the Bulls flub another personnel choice? 

Only five days later, Bitim would sub into the game against the Cavaliers. In front of his home crowd, his number was called on the biggest stage, and Bitim came off the bench and helped rally the Chicago Bulls to victory. That next step he repeatedly mentioned had just been climbed. The postgame interview was a joy to watch. The rookie was barely able to put his feelings into words. All he could do was express how this was a dream to him and how exciting it is to be here, especially next to one of his idols in, DeMar DeRozan. The young man just couldn’t stop smiling. At the beginning of the year, no one had expected this to come of him…. except himself. The last question I got to ask him in November was how he wanted to evolve as a basketball player in the upcoming season.

Bitim paused momentarily, leaving me with a statement that sums his journey up better than I ever could: “My goal for this season is to show everybody that I belong in the United States and that I belong in the NBA. I’m trying to be better every day and then show myself because I know I belong here.”

All along, it sounds like the emergence of Onuralp Bitim was inevitable from the start, and he was just waiting for us to catch up.

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