Head coach Mark Turgeon has led Maryland back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.
And now, Turgeon faces arguably the biggest game of his life when his Terrapins battle his alma mater Kansas Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, at approximately 8:40 p.m.
The winner advances to the Elite Eight. The loser goes home.
While Turgeon is only focused on this game, as a reporter, I can daydream. And I hope “Turg” becomes the successor to KU coach Bill Self whenever Self retires from coaching or if he should ever leave for the NBA.
Turgeon has been a winner on almost every level (he went 25-29 as Jacksonville State coach in two seasons in his only losing tenure as head man) beginning with his storied career at Hayden High in Topeka, where the fearless point guard led his team to a 41-1 record his junior and senior years and to a 25-0 mark during his senior campaign, when he averaged 11.5 points and 6.8 assists per game and was named MVP of the Kansas Basketball Classic and Pizza Hut Classic.
At Kansas, Turgeon helped spark the turnaround of KU basketball by becoming the first Jayhawk to appear in four straight NCAA Tournaments. He helped lead Kansas to one regular-season title (1986) and two Big Eight Tournament championships (1984 and 1986) while being a part of the ‘86 Final Four team, where Self served as a graduate assistant.
Turgeon, who served as co-captain during his junior and senior seasons, finished his career third all time at KU in assists (now No. 12 with 437) and also set a freshman record for most assists (138). At just 5-10, 140 pounds, Turgeon served as a true leader for the Jayhawks that season, helping KU to their first NCAA Tournament in three years.
When he wasn’t hooping at Allen Fieldhouse, he brought his act to the JRP basketball courts with teammate Chris Piper and played in some heated and competitive pick-up games. I lived in JRP Hall for four years in college, and Turgeon was a legend at the courts. While the games were intense, he kept it fun and even showed his leadership and future coaching skills by orchestrating the show and inserting players into the games.
After concluding his KU career, Turgeon has embarked on a very successful coaching career with first serving as an assistant at Kansas under Larry Brown and Roy Williams for five years until 1992. He’s held head-coaching stops at Jacksonville State, Wichita State (he guided the Shockers to the Sweet 16 in 1997), Texas A&M and now Maryland.
Turgeon’s winning percentage of .600 was the best mark by a Maryland coach in his first two seasons. Turgeon, who is 114-58 in his fifth season at Maryland and 364-217 in 17 seasons overall, led the Terrapins to a school-record 26 wins during the regular season in 2014-15 (28 total wins that year). He’s kept it going this season, guiding Maryland to a 22-3 record before losing five of eight games entering the NCAA Tournament.
But this talented Maryland (27-8) team appears to be on the right track now with two wins in the Big Dance against South Dakota State and Hawaii. While Turgeon hates to play his alma mater in the Sweet 16 (he is 0-6 against KU, all games as Texas A&M head coach), he’s just thrilled to be there and looking forward to the challenge.
The former KU standout doesn’t believe it will be an odd feeling playing the Jayhawks considering he’s faced them six times before as head coach.
“The Kansas thing is not that weird to me anymore or unique,” Turgeon said Wednesday at his press conference. “It was a little bit that way the first time we played. Being at Texas A&M, we played them a lot. You get used to it.
“I'd rather play them in a national championship game than a Sweet 16 game, but here we are so we'll play it. It is what it is. As Bill can tell you when he plays Oklahoma State, which he's done a lot, it's probably not unique or weird to him anymore. He just does it. Kind of the way I feel about this game.”
Turgeon then recalled his recruitment to Kansas.
“I was down on my knees begging coach Brown to take me,” Turgeon said. “That's what it came down to. Or my dad was doing that. I got very lucky. There was a coaching change (Brown replaced Ted Owens). The coach happened to be 5-11, like me. And thank God they had 15 scholarships back then. Now we only have 13 so I probably wouldn't have been on the team.
“It all worked out, and it was a one-year deal. It's like, ‘hey, you got one shot. If you don't -- doesn't work out, you won't be here next year.’ So it worked out. And I talked to coach Brown this week, and I just -- changed my life, obviously, for the better. So I was very fortunate and played on a lot of great teams, too, so it was a lot of fun.”
Turgeon indeed felt blessed to attend his dream school.
“I recruited KU, went to their camps, go to their games,” he said. “Yeah, I recruited them. So in the end, my high school coach, coach (Ben) Meseke, really helped set up a meeting and I was pretty confident at that age, to say the least, when I met with coach Brown.”
Turgeon, his Hayden teammate, and Meseke went out with Brown for ice cream. That’s when the famous and future Hall of Famer coach asked the “confident” Turgeon why he felt he could play at storied Kansas.
"He said, 'Coach, I'm better than any guard you've got right now," Meseke told The Diamondback (Maryland’s student newspaper) recently. "It really made an impression."
Indeed, it did. Brown immediately offered the 18-year-old a scholarship.
And the rest is history.
Not only is Turgeon a proven winner but another big reason I want him to eventually succeed Self as KU head coach is because nobody loves the Jayhawks more than this Topeka native. He grew up idolizing Kansas and dreamed of playing for KU one day, much like former Kansas coach Dick Harp, the only man to play and coach his alma mater in the Final Four.
John Hendel, in his 1991 book, “Kansas Jayhawks: History-Making Basketball,” wrote that Turgeon “used to play mock games pitting Kansas against Notre Dame and took time to imitate the Jayhawks of the time such as Paul Mokeski, Ken Koenigs, and Clint Johnson. He idolized Darnell Valentine."
“I used to be Darnell,” Turgeon said. “I used to try to shoot free throws like Darnell and do everything like Darnell. We had a puppy and we named it D.V.”
It could be several years before the time comes when Self retires or leaves KU, but I can think of nobody more fitting to be the next KU head coach than Mark Turgeon.
Brown feels he’s a coaching gem.
“I love him,” Brown said when Turgeon became the Aggies’ head coach in 2007.
"He's smart enough to figure out what his kids can do, and tailor what he wants to do on their strengths,” Brown added of Turgeon, who was named Big 12 Coach of the year in 2010 and 2011 and is the only coach in Big 12 history with at least 24 wins in each of his four seasons.
“He's worked with Roy, but he's developed his own style. His teams are going to play hard, play unselfish and they are going to guard. ... I'm a huge fan of Mark Turgeon."
And so is the rest of Jayhawk Nation, although they won’t be pulling for Turgeon Thursday night against Kansas.
But for Turgeon, he will always bleed crimson and blue.
“I love Kansas,” Turgeon said in January 2009 before he returned to Allen Fieldhouse as head coach for the first time with his Aggies to play KU. “Ever since I was 4 or 5 years old, I’ve loved Allen Fieldhouse. I’ll be fired up. I’m looking forward to it. Kansas fans make me feel better than any fans I’ve ever been around. They’ve been really good to me my whole life.”
For Sweet 16 ticket packages, click below: