A Salute to Robert Turner

Robert Turner has far exceeded expectations in his short stint at Texas Tech.

Tubby Smith’s first recruit to Texas Tech has played his final basketball game in United Supermarkets Arena. Not so very long ago he was an entirely unheard of prospect from New Mexico Junior College. So obscure was Turner that he didn't receive a single scholarship offer at the conclusion of his JUCO career. New Mexico didn't offer him. Neither did New Mexico State nor UTEP. The same for Georgia and Georgia Tech, the principle schools in Turner’s home state. Heck, even Abilene Christian didn't want Turner.

Instead, he was fortunate enough, at the last moment, to land a spot playing for Texas Tech, the program that should be the premier basketball power in the quadrant outlined by Austin, Norman, Boulder and Tucson.

And, as it turns out, Texas Tech was equally fortunate to have Turner.

With presumptive starting point guard Josh Gray transferring to Odessa Junior College, Tubby Smith was at a loose end. Turner, who probably believed his competitive basketball career was at an end, got the call from Texas Tech and a new lease on basketball life.

To say little was expected of Turner would be a profound understatement. Many observers believed he was a recruit borne of desperation and that, not being good enough to hack it in the Big 12, would spend his Texas Tech days at the far end of the bench. How wrong they were.

Instead, Turner was one of two players (Jaye Crockett was the other) to start every game during the 2013/14 season. He led the team in assists and steals, was second in minutes played, and scored nine points per contest. Any honest assessment of Turner’s initial season in Lubbock would conclude that he achieved far more than was expected of him.

Robert Turner, his mother LaTanya and coach Tubby Smith

Thus far in 2014/15 Turner has started all but three games, is second on the team in scoring, again leads Tech in assists, and is shooting 73 percent from the free throw line.

But Turner’s Texas Tech career cannot be read in the statistics alone, some of which, it must be said, are not entirely favorable. Instead, Turner should be remembered as a player who was immensely grateful for the opportunity to play basketball in a Power Five conference, and who demonstrated that gratitude by playing with every ounce of effort he possessed, every time he laced ‘em up.

Turner does not possess the intrinsic point guard talent of a John Stockton. Heck, he’s not even a true point guard, period. But Tubby Smith has stated that Turner is the hardest working player he has ever coached.

Think about that for a moment and let it sink in. Smith has been coaching the game of basketball since 1979. He has won a national championship, coached a slew of players who made it in the NBA, and has more basketball accomplishments than you can shake a stick at, and he names Robert Turner as his hardest worker.

And it is that work ethic, effort, and energy that turned a junior college point guard nobody wanted into an almost perpetual starter, and a huge contributor to a Big 12 basketball team. Robert Turner has earned his big-time college basketball spurs. He has come by them honestly. And nobody can take that away from him.

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