Shockers coach mellows, lands Sweet 16 berth

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- On his way back to the locker room after the press conference that recapped Wichita State's victory over Tennessee, Shockers head coach Mark Turgeon stopped, leaned against the white brick wall in the hallway and unloaded.

Finally, for the first time, he could release all that he had been thinking about this past year: all the self-doubt, the uncertainty, the career questioning that had consumed him for 12 months.

Less than 30 minutes earlier, Turgeon had delivered Wichita State to its first Sweet 16 since 1981 via an 80-73 victory -- a win earned over Bruce Pearl, who was in Turgeon's position just a year ago. Pearl led Wisconsin-Milwaukee to a Sweet 16 appearance -- and a month later, he was the next coach at Tennessee.

The easy thing to do is proclaim Turgeon the next Pearl, but there's more to this story. Pearl wasn't wondering if he should get out of the coaching business before the Panthers made their NCAA Tournament run.

Turgeon wasn't so sure. He played for Larry Brown at Kansas and worked for him during the 1988 national title season. He worked under Roy Williams, too, before leaving for an assistant's job at Oregon. He spent a year in the pros with the Sixers and had two years as a head coach with Jacksonville State before taking over at Wichita State in 2000.

Turgeon expected excellence, but it didn't come right away. It took until three years just to make the NIT. The Shockers went to the NIT in each of the next two seasons as well -- quite good for a Missouri Valley school, but not for him.

"I was questioning if I was meant for this, maybe I'm not good enough to take this team to the NCAA Tournament, maybe they need to hire someone else," Turgeon told ESPN.com. "I was an immature coach. I whined and yelled a lot. I said, 'You've got to change, you can't scream and you can't yell.' I had to be more ..."


"Yes," Turgeon said.

So, he changed. He didn't let the referees get to him. He tried not to let things that he couldn't control affect him.

"I tried hard to keep my butt in my seat," Turgeon said. "I see the top coaches do that, but they've got the best players."

Turgeon's metamorphosis didn't go unnoticed.

"His bench decorum was really good this year," MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said. "He wasn't screaming as much. Mark wanted to climb the hill quickly, too quickly at first. That's not a statement on recruiting. But he did mature and had kids like Paul Miller who just blossomed this year."

Through Miller's development inside (he was the MVC player of the year), Kyle Wilson's consistency and the poise and precision from guards P.J. Couisnard, Matt Braeuer, Sean Ogirri and Karon Bradley, the Shockers were able to recover from a heartbreaking NIT loss to Vanderbilt last season to win the Valley this year.

"He's more mellow," Miller said. "But he's a winner. No matter where he's been he's won. He figured out how he wanted to coach. And he knows how to motivate people."

Now "Turg," as his close friends call him, gets to experience the same highs as his two closest friends in the biz: Gonzaga's Mark Few and Utah's Ray Giacoletti. Giacoletti got to the Sweet 16 last season; Few did in 2000 and '01.

"I can honestly say I was never jealous," Turgeon said. "Mark and Ray are two of my best friends. I was so proud of Ray last year and when he got to the Sweet 16 I left the longest, blubbering message. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself."

Turgeon already had brought the alumni back into the fold. Former Shocker and NBA star Xavier McDaniel (he of the hilarious cameo in "Singles") was cruising through the locker room Saturday, telling the current Shocker players that people could now focus on them, instead of always referring to Wichita State's past.

But getting to the Sweet 16 puts Turgeon and the Shockers on another level.

"I'm not not trying to win the next game, but at our level the Sweet 16 is like getting to the Final Four," Turgeon said. "When I walked into the Nike, Adidas or Reebok camps, I felt like the stepchild. I felt like I didn't belong because we couldn't get involved with those kids, the best 100 in the country. That's why I feel like this will be the Final Four for us."

Wichita State heads to Washington, D.C., to play either a BracketBusters rematch against George Mason (a potential home team as an 11-seed) or North Carolina. Either way, Turgeon said he's got to manage his time this week, knowing that he will suddenly become the most in-demand Shocker in 25 years.

"I hope some other mid-majors join us to take a little bit of the attention off," Turgeon said. "But we'll have a fun week."

And, finally, he's at peace with himself, his career and his place in this sport. He's a Sweet 16 coach, something that can't ever be taken away.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.