COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It’s been a frustrating season for the Texas A&M basketball squad.
First-year coach Billy Kennedy was away from the team for nearly a month during the fall after being diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The situation certainly didn’t help things on the court, where the Aggies are off to a 1-4 start in a Big 12 conference they were picked to win.
“None of us have ever faced this kind of adversity,” guard Elston Turner said. “Around here, we’re used to winning.”
A Washington transfer, Turner has been one of the few bright spots for Texas A&M. He’s averaging a team-high 13.2 points in his first season with the Aggies and is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range.
Turner -- whose father (Elston Sr.) is an assistant with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns -- answered some questions about the Aggies’ past few months before Thursday’s practice at Reed Arena.
How would you describe the last few months?
Elston Turner: This 1-4 start ... it’s been tough. Especially because all of us are used to winning. Maybe it can be a blessing in disguise. I think that’s the way that everyone is looking at it. We’re taking small steps. Once we break through we’ll be glad we went through some of the things we did. It’s a learning process. For the most part, we’re starting to get back to how we were playing before conference started.
How did you fight through it?
ET: We’ve had numerous meetings, just with the team, without the coaches. We’re telling each other that we have to pick it up, that we have to play better, that the little mistakes are what causes things to happen, especially when you’re playing a top-five team on the road. You can’t make mistakes and you have to expect to win the game.
How did you find out that your coach, Billy Kennedy, had Parkinson’s?
ET: We really had no idea what was going on. He was gone for a couple of days without us knowing why. They didn’t tell us what was wrong with him. They just said he’d seen some doctors and that he had to be away for a while. Once they told us what was really happening, we came together as a team. He’s a great coach. We care about him. At the end of the day, his health is what matters most.
What do you like the most about Coach Kennedy?
ET: He’s a very spiritual person. He’s very Christian. He’ not going to cuss us out. He’s laid back, but he demands respect, he demands perfection. That’s what we all like about him.
Switching gears a bit, when you look back at your career thus far, who are the toughest players you’ve ever had to guard.
ET: James Harden from Arizona State, Chase Budinger from Arizona and Landry Fields from Stanford are probably the toughest guys. Them and Jrue Holiday from UCLA.
How does the Pac-12 compare to the Big 12?
ET: The Pac-12 was a lot stronger a few years ago than it is now. So it’s hard to compare. But as far as style, the Big 12 has a better basketball environment. The Pac-12 has a lot of small gyms. They’re loud, but they seem smaller. The Big 12 is crazy. Every gym is huge. It’s always going to be sold out. On the road, you can’t hear anything.
Why did you decide to leave Washington and transfer to Texas A&M?
ET: My family being down here (in Texas) was a plus, but it wasn’t the sole reason I wanted to come to Texas A&M. I just thought I’d be a good fit here. It was a chance to showcase everything I can do besides just shooting the ball.
I hear you’re a black belt in karate.
ET: Taekwando. My parents made me do it when I was in the sixth grade. I lived in Sacramento when my dad was coaching the Kings. For some reason, me and my sister ... they made us do taekwando from my sixth grade year until my sophomore year of high school.
What was it like having a dad who was an NBA head coach? Did you get close with some of his players?
ET: When I lived in Sacramento, I was pretty good friends with Bobby Jackson and Chris Webber. I still keep in touch with those guys with texts and stuff. A lot of times I’d shoot with them and work out with them. This was when I was in middle school and early high school.
You’d actually play in pick-up games with some of those guys?
ET: Yeah, and I held my own. In high school I played in Pro-Ams. I was the starting point guard on a team with Ron Artest and Kevin Martin. It was a great experience. I had a few 20-point games and actually ended up making the Pro-Am All-Star team. I definitely got a lot better playing with those guys.