VAUGHT: "I will miss Melvin Turpin"

If you ever knew Melvin Turpin, you had to like him. He never took himself too seriously, never let fame change him and always had time to talk — and laugh — with anyone he knew. Two things stunned me Thursday night when I found out Turpin committed suicide at his house.

First, it was hard for me to imagine Turpin being gone or being so depressed or distressed that he would take his own life. Two, it stunned me when I realized Turpin was 49 years old.

Surely "The Big Dipper" as he was known in college or "Dinner Bell Mel" as he was known in the NBA when he never got his weight under control — heed that warning DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton — could not be almost 50 years old and now dead.

Not the dominant offensive player who was an All-American and all-Southeastern Conference player at UK from 1980-84. Not the player who teamed with Sam Bowie to form college basketball's first Twin Towers. Not the player who scored an incredible 42 points as a junior when he went 18-for-22 from the field or had 35 points against LSU as a senior when he went 15-for-17 from the field. Not the player who was the sixth overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft.

He went on to play five seasons for Cleveland, Utah and Washington before his continual weight problems forced him out of the NBA.

Turpin was a media darling when he played for coach Joe B. Hall. Remember there was much great media access — as well as fan access — to players then. I talked to Turpin after most UK games and often at practices.

I still remember well arriving at Rupp Arena for a Saturday afternoon game at the same time Turpin did. He jumped out of the car and headed for the entrance in a sprint.

I stopped him long enough to ask why he was running.

"Because I am already in trouble with coach Hall and now he will really be mad," Turpin said.

Naturally, I asked him why Hall was mad. "I messed up on a play in practice and he said if I did it in a game he was going to call timeout and make me run the stairs (to the top of Rupp Arena)," Turpin said.

I knew Hall wouldn't, or couldn't, do that and told Turpin that.

"You are wrong because when coach Hall tells me something, I know he's not playing. I don't want to get embarrassed that way. And now he's really going to be mad because I am late," Turpin said.

Obviously, Hall didn't make Turpin run. Instead, he had a double-double in Kentucky's win. Scoring was never an issue for him. He finished his career with 1,509 points. He also had 730 rebounds. Kentucky won three straight SEC titles with Turpin, who average 15.2 points per game his senior year.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Melvin Turpin. Our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends as they mourn their loss. The University of Kentucky and the Big Blue Nation will forever remember Melvin and all his contributions to our basketball program," said UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart in a statement released by UK.

"I want to express my deepest sympathy to all of Melvin Turpin's family and friends. I also pray for their strength during this time of grief," said UK coach John Calipari in another released statement.

Their sentiments are accurate, but neither man knew Turpin because they were not at UK when he was. Teammates loved Turpin. Fans loved Turpin. Media members loved Turpin. Even Hall loved Turpin despite sometimes catching him ordering extra food or being late for a workout or even a game.

Turpin was just a big kid at heart. I still remember getting a call one night that he was in Danville — during his UK playing days — and was playing video games with youngsters at a local establishment. When I got there, Turpin smiled and said he just needed to get away from Lexington and have a little fun. He had brought a roll of quarters with him and kids who barely knew him were having the time of their life with him.

That's the Turpin I'll remember and miss because he truly was one of a kind.

AllWildcats Top Stories