Kevin Turner played at Illinois from 1994-1998. A late bloomer, the Chicago Simeon product was a recruiting afterthought who developed sufficiently in his time on campus to lead his team to the Big 10 Championship his senior year, averaging 17.7 points a game.
Along with fellow seniors Matt Heldman, Jerry Hester, Jerry Gee and Brian Johnson, Turner helped the Illini achieve a 23-10 overall record and 13-3 in the rugged Big 10. The whole was better than the sum of its parts that year as the chemistry between players made up for any lack of talent.
"It was a great experience," Turner remembers. "That was the first time in four years we seized some success. By winning the Big 10 Championship, it was the start of something great for the program. It's hard to win in the Big 10."
Turner has found it difficult to return to campus until this year.
"I haven't gotten back very often. I was living in Michigan the last three years. So that made it a little tough to get back. I went to a couple games in Michigan because I was living 30 minutes from Lansing. I just moved back to Chicago this summer."
Before that, he continued his basketball career overseas.
"I played almost 8 years over there. I played 6 years in Poland, and I played in Czech Republic and a little bit in Germany. I got it out of my system, and now I'm trying to give it back to the kids in the inner city of Chicago."
Turner is using his basketball experiences to help others.
"Right now, I'm coaching a 15 and Under AAU team. We've got some good guys, so hopefully we'll have someone playing here one day. I'm keeping in touch with Coach (Jerrance) Howard. The team is called Hoopers Only. I coach with (former Illini) Jelani Boline.
"I also do personal training. I have a company called Take A Good Shot Basketball where we train kids in the Chicago area."
Turner empathizes with late bloomers. They are often overlooked as they grow up.
"What we're trying to do now is not let these bloomers bloom late. We're trying to put them out there ahead of time.
"We don't get the best kids in Chicago, we kind of take the second tier players. Give them a little bit of exposure. They don't get the exposure the top players get. I was a player that didn't get much exposure but still was able to make it."
Turner, who came to the Illini game with teammate Gee, admitted to some nostalgia on his return to campus.
"I'm glad to be back. It brings back so many good memories. When you come in here as a player, you get that feeling. When Jerry Gee and I walked in, it was like a rush in our bodies."
There haven't been many changes within the Assembly Hall since Turner played, but the same cannot be said of the campus.
"Around campus there's been a lot of changes. We almost got lost. We didn't recognize some of the buildings."