Turgeon the Surgeon Back Home

It's been 17 years since Mark Turgeon sat on the KU bench as a Jayhawk assistant coach under Roy Williams. Kansas beat Missouri, 97-89, on March 8, 1992 during Senior Night with Macolm Nash, Alonzo Jamison, and David Johanning playing their final home game in Allen Fieldhouse.

Tonight, the former KU standout point guard (1983-87) returns home in his first game as head coach in Allen Fieldhouse. "Turge" and his 15-3 (1-2 in Big 12) Texas A&M Aggies face Kansas (13-4, 2-0) at 8 p.m. in an ESPN Big Monday showdown.
Turgeon is excited about his homecoming and coaching in a "tough environment ... one of the most famous arenas in college basketball."
"I love Kansas," Turgeon said. "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."

The Allen Fieldhouse crowd should give Turgeon a warm pregame welcome. After all, he's a Topeka native who stole Kansas fans' hearts during his KU career after starring at Hayden High School in the early 1980s.

Turgeon led Hayden to a 41-1 record and two straight state championships his junior and senior seasons. Unwanted by major college recruiters at just 5-10, he met with first-year KU head coach Larry Brown in the spring of 1983 and convinced him that he could make an impact in the program.  
Brown was sold and offered him a scholarship. Turgeon was part of Brown's first recruiting class with Cedric Hunter and Chris Piper.
In Turgeon's and KU's first game that 1983-84 season at Houston against Guy Lewis' Phi Slamma Jamma team with Akeem Olajuwon on Nov. 26, 1983, Turgeon entered the contest and sparked a Kansas team that had panicked under the Cougars' pressure. The diminutive Turgeon even gave a hint of his future coaching career when he blocked out the 7-foot Olajuwon underneath the basket.
Brown was deeply impressed. This kid is really going to be something, said Brown, who has always preached the fundamentals of the game.
And the rest is history.
Turgeon eventually became the starting point guard that freshman season and guided KU to its first NCAA tournament in three years. He was a true leader on the squad which featured Carl Henry and Kelly Knight. Turgeon, who earned Big Eight All-Freshmen honors, was a captain on the 1986 Final Four team and the 1987 Sweet 16 squad. He finished his career in ‘87 ranked No. 3 in school history in assists (now No. 9) and became the first Jayhawk player to appear in four straight NCAA tournaments.

For all his accomplishments, the defining moment in Turgeon's career happened off the court after his standout frosh season. The skinny guard with the boyish face and braces thought he had it made. When Brown asked Turgeon what his plans were after graduating college, the highly confident teenager said he would play in the NBA.

Heck, he had already accomplished his childhood dream of playing for his beloved Jayhawks, so Turgeon felt he could surely make the pros.
Brown said he'd never make it. The KU coach believed Turgeon had a different destiny. That's when Brown told his point guard he'd make a good coach someday.
That conversation changed Turgeon's life. He spent the next three years at Kansas preparing for his coaching career. Turgeon hung on Brown's every word, every move he made, every play the master teacher drew up on the chalkboard.
All that learning, all that knowledge, and all that experience is a major reason why Turgeon has achieved much success in the coaching ranks from his days at KU, Oregon, the Philadelphia 76ers, Jacksonville State, Wichita State and now Texas A&M.

After finishing his playing career in 1987, Turgeon served as a KU assistant coach until 1992. He was part of the 1988 national championship team and the 1991 Final Four squad.
Turgeon then enjoyed stops as an assistant at Oregon (1992-97) under former KU aide Jerry Green and the 76ers (1997-98) under Brown before receiving his first head coaching position with Jacksonville State. He spent two seasons there before becoming head coach at Wichita State in 2000.

With a relentless work ethic and tireless dedication, Turgeon energized Wichita State basketball and returned the program to the glory days of the early 1980s, when the Shockers beat Kansas in the Sweet 16 in 1981. Turgeon cried that March evening seeing his Jayhawks go down.
But he was a Shocker now and built a home in Wichita from 2000-07, where he became a coaching darling. Turgeon posted the third most wins (128-89) in school history, and won an an average of 20.8 games per year during his final five seasons.
Turgeon arrived on the national scene in the 2006 NCAA tournament when his Cinderella Shockers from the Missouri Valley Conference beat Seton Hall and Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16. While Wichita State fell to eventual Final Four squad George Mason, Turgeon was all the talk in college basketball.
After spending seven seasons as head coach at Wichita State, Turgeon was rewarded for resurrecting the Shockers' program when Texas A&M hired him as its new coach on April 10, 2007. Turgeon succeeded Billy Gillispie, who left to become head coach at Kentucky.
Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne, who was at Oregon briefly when Turgeon was an assistant there, said at Turgeon's introductory press conference that his new leader could take the Aggies' program to its highest level in school history.
Turgeon definitely has the pedigree to achieve greatness.
"He's one of America's brightest young coaches, with a great heritage of basketball history," Byrne said that April day. "In most circles, you're known by the company you keep. Larry Brown, Roy Williams, Bill Self and John Calipari among others have influenced Mark personally and professionally during his career. I know the Aggie family will come to appreciate Mark the same way I do. He is a winner on and off of the court. ...He fits in our culture and I believe in that so severely."
While Turgeon said it was difficult to leave Wichita State, he was looking forward to the challenge ahead in College Station.
"I was at a special place, a place that was very good to me," Turgeon said. "It was hard, and it was going to take a special place and a special man (Byrne) and a place that I felt we could be very successful to leave. I have had opportunities to leave before and nothing excited me like A&M excited me, a chance to be the head men's basketball coach. I am extremely excited. The guys are already sucking up to me, they have Turgeon written on their shirt. That's not going to help with playing time but I like that."
"This program has a lot of momentum right now," Turgeon added of the Aggies, who finished in the top 10 the previous season. "Bill hired me to continue that momentum and take it to another level and that's what we are going to try to do. ... We will be passionate about making this program the best that it can possibly be."
For Turgeon, he could do it no other way. He believes in himself and will build the program the right way with integrity. The former Jayhawk is a man who has never strayed from his hometown Kansas values.
"With me what you see is what you get," Turgeon said at his press conference. "I am who I am, I don't try to fake it. I'll be honest, sometimes I am too honest. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I'm passionate about what I do. I am passionate about two things. I am passionate about college basketball and I am passionate about my family."
Brown knows all about this passion. He first saw Turgeon's fire when he met with him that spring day in 1983, when the high schooler persuaded the KU coach he was the point guard he needed. Brown has been quite fond of Turgeon ever since.
"I love him. I think it's a great job at Texas A&M and he's a wonderful fit," Brown said after Turgeon's hiring. "I think he will do an amazing job. Texas A&M is getting a great coach, and Texas A&M is a perfect fit for Mark.
"He's smart enough to figure out what his kids can do, and tailor what he wants to do on their strengths. 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. That's the way Billy did it as well, so I think the transition won't be difficult. What Mark values is the same as what Billy valued. I am a big fan of Billy Gillispie and I'm a huge fan of Mark Turgeon."
Turgeon worked for two of the best there is in Williams and Brown. While it's been 25 years, Turgeon has never forgotten that talk he had with Brown after his freshman season in 1984. Turgeon heeded Brown's advice about becoming a coach, and the two have become great friends. Brown has always been Turgeon's mentor, but get this, the Hall of Famer and current Charlotte Bobcats head man now refers to his former player and assistant as "Coach."
That's the biggest compliment Turgeon could ever receive. From Kansas to Oregon, Philadelphia, Jacksonville State, Wichita State, and now at Texas A&M, Brown has been there for Turgeon every step of the way.
"Larry Brown has been a big part of my life," Turgeon said. "About three weeks ago (before accepting the Aggies' job), there were some job openings that he was talking to me about and I just told him, ‘Coach I have a really good life here, I've got nine years, I'm comfortable, the people really like me, I could be here and have a great life.'
"He just said, ‘Coach, you didn't get into coaching to be comfortable. You got into coaching to coach in Sweet 16s every year and Final Fours.'
"And that's why I'm here."

Turgeon was actually contacted by KU about its coaching vacancy in 2003 when Roy Williams left for North Carolina. But the Jayhawks' No. 1 choice all along was Bill Self, and Turgeon was already content to continue building his program in Wichita.
But Turgeon has made the move to the Big 12 and he's already put his mark on the Aggies' program. Texas A&M went 25-11 last season in Turgeon's first year, losing a 51-49 nailbiter to UCLA in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Turgeon's 25 victories matched the most wins by a first-year coach at a Big 12 school.

Entering tonight's game in Allen Fieldhouse, Turgeon brings a 193-123 record in his 11th year as head coach. Win or lose, Turgeon will surely never forget his homecoming this evening.

He certainly does "wear my emotions on my sleeve." After KU lost a heartbreaking game to Duke in the 1986 Final Four, Turgeon was the only Jayhawk player who cried afterwards in the locker room.

Kansas basketball has always meant that much to him.

The Jayhawk faithful never forget one of their own, so don't be surprised to see the emotional Turgeon shed a tear or two after the fans give him a resounding pregame standing ovation.

He certainly deserves the love.

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