Turner does everything for No. 9 Ohio State
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Watch 30 seconds of highlights from an Ohio State game and you'd think the Buckeyes had four guys who wear No. 21.
Need a rebound? Evan Turner will get it. A defensive stop? Ditto. An assist? A big bucket? Turner will provide those, too.
Few if any teams in the nation depend more on one player than No. 9 Ohio State does on Evan Turner. It's not a secret, either.
West Virginia's Devin Ebanks previewed his team's January game against the Buckeyes by isolating on just one player.
"If Evan Turner doesn't get going, his team doesn't get going," Ebanks said. "If we can stop him, we can stop the team."
A kid who wasn't all that highly touted as a high school recruit, Turner has now become not just the player most valuable to his team, but also perhaps the best college player in the land.
"The best part of Evan Turner is ... all the parts," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "He just really doesn't have a weakness."
The scary part for opponents is that there's no simple way to put the clamps on the 6-foot-7 junior, who is averaging 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6 assists for a team that is 18-4 with him and 3-3 without him.
"Evan Turner is the best player in the country," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "He can hurt you in so many ways. He's a lead guard who can defend and play three or four positions."
Turner has been selected the Big Ten's player of the week six times this season even though he's only been healthy and available to play 11 weeks. In his career, he's won the honor nine times -- more than any Big Ten player ever.
He starred at St. Joseph's High School outside Chicago, but was considered the team's second-best player behind Demetri McCamey, now a rival at Illinois. One major scouting service listed Turner as the 16th-best small-forward prospect in the country, four slots behind Purdue's Robbie Hummel, his roommate and good friend on last summer's U.S. team at the World University Games.
It's how you finish, not how you start, Turner said.
"I always have had a little bit of confidence that I would be superior in some aspect of the game," Turner said. "I just worked hard and kept working hard and kept working hard. That's what motivated me to not be just any old guy on a court. You know, to make a difference and be an impact player."
Ohio State coach Thad Matta went to an AAU game four years ago to bird-dog Jon Diebler, Ohio's all-time leading prep scorer with 3,208 points.
"I've watched Jon play a lot and he can always shoot the ball," Matta said. "And Evan wouldn't let him get a shot off. That's when we offered him a scholarship."
Diebler and Turner both came to Ohio State -- and became best friends and roommates. As much as people like how Turner plays, once they get to know him they like him as much off the court.
"Who wouldn't want to play with a guy like that?" Diebler said. "I've been fortunate to play with him for three years and hopefully another one. His attitude all year has been unbelievable because people at our age, it's very easy to let it get to your head. The guy's one of the best players in the country. A lot of people would say, 'Aw, I can take this day off. It doesn't matter. I'm going to be all right down the road.' But every day he comes in with the same attitude and is trying to get better."
Asked for Turner's No. 1 attribute, Matta said it's his personality.
"He brings an attitude, a mindset, to our basketball team," he said. "If you ever spend any time with him, he's a terrific young man, a terrific kid. That's the thing. You take the rebounding, the scoring, the passing, and all of that, but it's really more of just who he is."
Turner had two triple-doubles early in the season, believed to be only the second and third in program history. This was after being shifted from wing to point guard, and serving as the front man on Ohio State's trapping half-court pressure and occasional zone defense. It's rare when he doesn't go a full 40 minutes in a game.
While dunking in a runaway victory on Dec. 5, he held on to the rim too long while avoiding a defender and fell directly onto the small of his back, breaking two bones. The prognosis was that he'd miss two months, but he was back 4½ weeks later. The Buckeyes have gone 11-3 since, have a shot at the Big Ten title and are a lock for the NCAA tournament.
The biggest reason is one player.
"You got a kid that has mobility, and size and height, and yet he can play point guard and control the game," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said of Turner. "That's the toughest thing for everybody to deal with."
Michigan State's Tom Izzo even conjured up a legend when asked about the Buckeye.
"He does make other people better and I think that's his biggest strength," he said. "The other thing is he rebounds pretty well on the defensive end. When he gets it, he goes with it like a Magic Johnson used to."
Such praise embarrasses Turner.
"I remember back when nobody even knew my name," he said. "Nobody even cared. It's cool now."
Turner says he loves college and isn't really considering jumping to the NBA a year early. He's a celebrity as he walks around campus, and is almost a lock to be the Big Ten's player of the year. And he dates Samantha Prahalis, perhaps the favorite to be the women's player of the year in the conference.
Wisconsin's Ryan coached Turner during the World University Games and became a big fan like everyone else who gets to know Turner. But that doesn't mean Ryan wants the relationship to continue much longer.
"I certainly hope I'm not coaching against him next year," Ryan said.
Then he added, "Don't tell Thad I said that."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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