Gene Pingatore knows an outstanding player when he sees one. He has coached such luminaries as Isaiah Thomas, Daryl Thomas, Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey among many others. He brought freshman Paul Turner up to the varsity halfway through the season, and he sees improvement in his team as a result.
"He's a very skilled kid, and very coachable. He picks up things right away. Really unbelievable. I have him playing defense on some of the better players we face. He does okay.
"He's started six games for us. Ironically, the six games he's started we've been very competitive. So that says something."
Pingatore has played freshmen before, but they must earn their playing time.
"We've had a few, like Tony Freeman, William Gates. We've had a few. But they came in as scorers. That was their M.O.
"Paul has never been that way. When I watched him earlier as a kid, he's more like a point guard, looking to pass and distribute it. Perhaps that's where he'll be. I don't know at this point."
Turner, who visited Illinois for the Wisconsin game in January, says he is playing all over the floor.
"I'm playing all the positions right now. I don't have a preference. I'm playing mostly guard."
Pingatore confirms his future star has no set position as yet.
"I play three guards in the lineup, and he's one of the three. He's doing things we don't normally ask freshmen to do. The other day we were holding the ball, and the ball was in his hands. I don't know if that's good or bad. And defensively, he guarded the second best player on the team. So eventually it will pay off."
Turner has made the necessary adjustments to playing with and against players much older than him.
"Everybody is a lot stronger. I'm adjusting pretty well. My goal is to keep practicing and just keep getting better."
Not surprisingly, Turner is still feeling his way with his new teammates. Pingatore thinks he will eventually be a much better scorer than his present 7 point average.
"I'm trying to get him to score more. He's very good at it, but he's not looking to shoot. It's rather difficult as a freshman. He doesn't want to overstep his bounds."
Pingatore also believes the young man has not yet reached his ultimate height.
"He's 6'-4", and I think he's still growing. He'll be a good one, hopefully at 6'-6"."
While he will no doubt hear from numerous colleges before he commits somewhere, he lists several already recruiting him.
"Illinois, DePaul, Purdue, Michigan and Nevada. I'm gonna take my time with it. I will look for how they play the game."
Right now, Illinois appears to have the upper hand. Illini assistant Jerrance Howard has developed a solid relationship, and he likes the Illini program. And Pingatore supported McCamey's decision to attend the UI. But he will likely wait until his junior year to commit somewhere.
Turner believes he will play his AAU ball with the Mac Irvin Fire.