Early Struggles Helped Turner Mature

Ohio State fans have seen Evan Turner grow into one of the Big Ten's most dominant players during the past two seasons, but had things gone differently Turner might not be in the program at all. Find out about the big decision that was made prior to his freshman season and how it impacted his future within the program.

Before his freshman season even began, Evan Turner had his mind made up about Ohio State.

It was not where he wanted to be.

A native of Chicago and the youngest of three brothers, Turner eventually picked the Buckeyes over schools such as Illinois, Indiana and DePaul – all schools that were closer to home. But after the four-star prospect grew close with other members of the class of 2007 while being recruited, less than a week after graduating from St. Joseph Turner found himself heading to Columbus to start his Buckeye career.

By the time the summer was through, he had seen enough and was ready to come home. Back home, his mother Iris James, knew what she had to do. With her oldest son Richard, she rented a car and made the drive to Columbus.

"When my oldest son and I got there Evan was a different person," she told BuckeyeSports.com. "He was not the person that we knew. He was just not himself and he was not happy."

James had been tipped off by a former AAU coach of Evan's who kept in pretty close contact with his former player.

Once she and her son arrived in Columbus, they had a meeting with her youngest son and the OSU coaching staff to discuss Turner's future. Matta went so far as to offer the freshman the opportunity to leave the program if he so desired, and the Turner family considered the option.

"I'd never been away from home, so it was tough," Turner said. "I think in that situation I wasn't prepared for it and I was immature. All I had to do was toughen up and that helped a lot. It was a process."

His mother did not stop there, however. She met with counselors and academic advisors to get more information about her son's tenuous tenure in Columbus. What she learned was that a number of factors had contributed to Turner's unhappiness.

"Being there by himself he really had no transportation," James said. "He didn't know anybody. He's a very prideful young man so he didn't reach out maybe like he should have to the individuals who were there. Between that and trying to get acclimated to the program at Ohio State, it was very, very difficult."

Living with one of Turner's uncles, James was in town for two weeks while they debated his future in the program. Ultimately, they drew up a plan that would allow Turner to stay that also called for more constant communication between the coaches and James.

In addition, Turner's mother reminded him of one primary fact: she didn't raise any quitters.

"I just laid some things down for Evan like, ‘If you really want to go I'll take you back, if you really want to stay then there's certain things that you'll need to do. This is the decision that you made and you need to work it out,' " she said. "I laid some things out for him and he understood them and he became alert and said, ‘OK, I'll hang in there.' "

Now more than a year later, Turner has matured into not only the best player on his team but one of the best in the entire conference. As of Feb. 5, the sophomore was third in the conference in scoring at 17.0 points per game, fourth in rebounding at 7.4 boards per game and sixth in field-goal percentage at 52.2 percent. This season, he has twice captured conference player of the week honors.

During the off-season, Turner said he read two books recommended by the coaching staff: "Lone Survivor," a book about a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan, and "Wooden," a book written by legendary college basketball coach John Wooden. The goal was to sharpen his mind and help him become a tougher competitor.

"Coach Matta just told me when my mind is there, I'm one of the best players," Turner said. "When my mind's not there, I'm just average. He said ‘I can't afford to have you average.' I want to be a great player."

In this case, being a great player meant staying at Ohio State.

"I think that he was kind of young, if you know what I mean," Matta said. "He came in here as a young freshman. He came in here with a very good feel for how to play and I think he continues to grow that as he moves forward."

On a roster full of inexperienced faces, Turner has been thrust into a leadership role in just his second year in the program. The loss of junior David Lighty to a foot injury only further necessitated that growth. Before that, just one year removed from nearly leaving the program himself, his mother said Turner impressed the coaches when this year's freshman class arrived on campus.

There was Turner, now the seasoned veteran, telling his story and encouraging them to stick it out like he did.

"Evan explained to the group how he had a difficult time but also said that he had some growing pains and that he really appreciated how he overcame them," she said. "(The coaches) could not believe that Evan had grown so much as a young man, and that really says a lot about his character. As a parent, I'm glad he was able to recognize his weaknesses and overcome them."

No doubt the Buckeyes themselves feel the same way.


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