Phil Turner: "Too Anxious"

The life of a redshirt can be filled with ups and downs, pretty much like a player getting plenty of minutes on the court. The redshirts have to grind through the same practices as the others. The work load is the same although the rewards must wait for another season.

Such is the case with Mississippi State rookie Phil Turner. The Grenada product will be the lone redshirt for the Bulldogs this campaign.

And it's not so much about Turner's talent, which has been praised by head coach Rick Stansbury.

However, Turner finds himself in a crowded backcourt with only so many minutes to go around.

"It's hard," said Turner of having to watch games instead of play in games. "But the coaches keep you up and won't let you get down on yourself or the situation. They will chew you out and then pick you up the next minute. You have to work on next year as a redshirt and you don't want to be in the same spot and at the same level of play next year that you were this season as a redshirt.

"They give me a lot of energy and motivation to keep working hard. I know I can't play this year but it doesn't stop me from working for next season and the future."

And pushing the likes of fellow classmates Ben Hansbrough and Barry Stewart and sophomore guards Jamont Gordon, Reginald Delk and Richard Delk has kept Turner's focus in practice.

Turner also serving a good purpose for opposing guards in practice.

"I have to admit it hurts a lot to sit and watch instead of go out there and help my teammates win games," said Turner. "But I know what I have to do. In practice, I still go at everybody just as hard because I am still part of the team.

"When they win, it's a win under my belt. And when we lose, it's a loss under my belt, too. I feel that I still have to prepare the guys in practice. I have to get bigger and learn the game more but playing with better guys will help me a lot for the future."

Facing that type of talent day-in and day-out gives Turner an up-close view of how bright the future is for Bulldog basketball. Turner's class alone has caught eyes in the early season with the play of Hansbrough and Stewart in the backcourt and the athleticism of post man Jarvis Varnado.

He likes what he sees every day in practice and how the team's chemistry is slowly but surely starting to come around on the floor when the lights are on.

"We have great players," said Turner. "They may be young but they are great players. And we all compliment each other. Once we start working more together, I think we will be very good. I believe I will fit in that well next season."

Entering his senior season at Grenada High School, Turner flew slightly under the radar.

But when he got his chance, Turner shined the best.

Turner averaged over 20 points a game as a senior. And more importantly, Turner led his team to the Class 5A state playoffs, a first for the program since 1987.

During that playoff run, Turner poured in 35 points in a North State postseason matchup with South Panola.

He performed well enough to catch Starkville head coach Greg Carter's eye on two occasions involving district encounters with Grenada and Starkville. Carter is also a former Bulldog player and assistant coach.

And then later that season, another former Bulldog player Meridian Community College head coach George Brooks, gave a good word on Turner's behalf, and backed up Carter's word to the State coaching staff.

"It was all about connections," said Turner. "I just had a connection. Coach Carter and Coach Brooks had seen me play and told Coach Kirby and he came and checked me out and here I am today. I knew then that I would be at Mississippi State and I am not surprised I am here."

It didn't hurt matters that Turner already had a 'back home' connection already on the Mississippi State basketball team.

Current Bulldog forward Bernard Rimmer played with Turner at Grenada High School when Turner was a sophomore in the 2003-04 season.

But it wasn't just Rimmer's presence that made Turner feel comfortable.

"That always helps," said Turner of Rimmer already being at State. "Bernard is a character but all the guys at Mississippi State are pretty much the same. If you've met one of them then you've met all of them. That's how it was when I visited State.

"Rimmer is a guy from back home but really, I saw that all the guys were the same. I feel that I fit in just fine here at Mississippi State."

As the Bulldogs head into the middle of the non-conference slate, Turner still feels that family atmosphere from the players and the coaches.

Of course, Turner is not the only Bulldog in dress clothes during game time. Former Louisville transfer Brian Johnson is sitting out the season as well albeit due to transfer rules.

But Turner stresses how everybody treats every player equal, whether they are redshirting, transferring or playing.

"I love the coaches because they make you feel at home," said Turner. "I am being redshirted but there's no difference in the way the coaches treat me. Coach Stansbury, Coach Cunningham, Coach Kirby and Coach White, they all treat all the guys the same.

"Whether you are playing or not, they expect hard work every day in practice. If you play 40 minutes or zero minutes, they expect the same effort and work. I love the way the coaches make everyone feel the same and make everyone feel a part of this team."

While coaches and players are wary about looking ahead on the schedule, you can't blame Turner if he wanders into the future just a bit, as in the start of the 2007-08 basketball campaign.

Turner will be a redshirt freshman then, and awaiting his first taste of college basketball.

And glancing down the road, how does Turner feel about that soon-to-be opportunity to play in actual games?

"Too anxious."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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