Turner, Buckeyes Both Finding Success

No. 1 Ohio State remains the nation's only unbeaten team and has done so with a cast of contributing characters. Several states and one big leap away, Evan Turner is settling into his new role as a professional with the Philadelphia 76ers. However, the two remain at least slightly intertwined as the season rolls on.

He might be gone, but Evan Turner still casts at least a partial shadow on the Ohio State men's basketball program.

Following a successful sophomore season, Turner opted to turn down the overtures of the NBA for at least one more go-round with the Buckeyes. The result was a trip to the Sweet 16 and an individual season that resulted with him being named the best player in college basketball.

Now a rookie with the Philadelphia 76ers, Turner has been through his share of growing pains as he had adapted to the NBA. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have taken the nation's No. 1 ranking thanks to a 21-0 start to open the season.

Seated in front of his locker at New Orleans Arena on Jan. 3 as he prepared for a road game against the New Orleans Hornets, Turner reflected on the team's success without him to that point.

"I pay attention to them a lot," he told BuckeyeSports.com. "I don't worry about them because in my eyes they're going to win almost every game with that type of team. You've got four starters back and a good freshman class, a loaded bench. They're going to take care of business."

That much has proven to be true. With Tuesday's lopsided win against No. 12 Purdue, the Buckeyes tied the 1969-70 UCLA squad for the best streak to open a season following the loss of the Naismith Trophy winner. That year's Bruins team was replacing Lew Alcindor.

As Turner announced his decision to turn pro last spring, he told reporters assembled in the team's practice gym that he believed the team would be just fine without him. Not only did his statement prove prophetic, but it has some wondering how Turner would fit into this year's attack.

After his team's loss to the Hornets, that scenario made the former Buckeye laugh.

"That would've been unreal," he said. "I might've been bored a little bit. I think things are going well for them and I'm happy for them and I'm trying to have success here. I think we're both building toward where we want to go in the future."

That much has proven to be true. Although his 76ers boast one less win than the Buckeyes in 24 more games, Turner has started playing his best basketball in recent weeks. After being relegated to the bench and being a healthy scratch for two games, the rookie has scored in double figures in five of his last nine games – the best such stretch of his career.

On that early January night in New Orleans, however, Turner struggled from the floor to the tune of a 2-for-14 shooting performance for seven points. Afterward, 76ers head coach Doug Collins said he wants Turner to make some changes to his shot during the summer.

"Evan's not a great shooter," the coach said. "In the offseason that's one of the areas he's going to have to work in. he's got some technical flaws in his shot. He gets his left hand on top of the ball and he gets the ball down in his palm so he shoots a heavy ball up there."

OSU head coach Thad Matta said Turner will benefit from the fact that he can receive input from his coaches during the offseason. As a college player, that was not an option.

"You look back to when Evan was a freshman, I don't know if we got as much into the hands as the legs," the coach said. "The great thing they have is they can work with their players in the offseason and we can't. You can't do it during the season. From the time he was here, his shot came a long way."

Said Turner: "I think the most important thing is lift. Sometimes I shoot line drives so I don't think it's how I'm shooting but getting my legs stronger. That stuff is going to come. I hit tons of mid-range shots in college. That stuff is coming."

When the Buckeyes hosted No. 12 Purdue on Tuesday, the game was attended by a number of national media members catching their first in-person glimpse of the team. One asked Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter how OSU appeared to be a better team than the one that went before it despite losing Turner.

After pointing out that the Buckeyes opened Big Ten play 1-3 last season with Turner recovering from broken vertebrae in his back, the coach pointed out that OSU simply has good players.

"Evan Turner was a tough guy to defend," Painter said. "Jared Sullinger is a tough guy to defend. Evan was a guy who was going for his and rightfully so and was breaking people down. I just think they have a great mix of guys. I thought they had a great mix last year but with Sullinger and his unselfishness, that is tough."

Before OSU hit the road to play Illinois on Jan. 22, seniors David Lighty and Jon Diebler said they had not yet heard from Turner about the game but expected that they would. Turner said he keeps in contact with his former teammates and said he plans to be around in the summer.

And while he watches from afar while enjoying his status as a professional, Turner said OSU will always hold a special place in his mind.

He remembers that every time he sees someone walking around with a No. 12 76ers jersey.

"In all honesty, it's nothing like seeing Ohio State No. 21 jerseys when I watch the Buckeyes on TV," he said. "That's the first place they sold jerseys with my number on them so that's cool."

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