NC State freshman Trea Turner didn't have many conversations with Division I coaches back in high school.
Funny how things change.
"I'll be out playing third base, and in the middle of pitches, a lot of [opposing] third-base coaches will talk to me,'' Turner said last week, grinning. "They'll ask, 'Why didn't you come play at my school?' And I'm like, 'Well, you never talked to me, never recruited me.'
"And it does kind of make me smile knowing how far I've come."
And how quickly.
Entering the NCAA tournament, in which the Wolfpack will play Sacred Heart (25-30) on Friday at Raleigh's Doak Field, the 6-foot-1, 171-pounder from Lake Worth, Fla., leads the nation in stolen bases with 55. He shattered NC State's school record for steals (30 by Kyle Wilson in 2009) only 31 games into the season and is still eyeing the ACC mark (63, set by UNC's Brian Roberts in 1998).
Perhaps most important, Turner has been a game-changer for the 39-17 Pack, who are hosting an NCAA regional for only the third time in school history.
"Every coach in the league asks, 'How'd you get him?' Every coach has got to have great respect for him,'' NC State head coach Elliott Avent said. " We thought he could run; we thought he had speed [when we recruited him]. But we got a little bit more than we thought."
Turner, a chemical engineering major who also is hitting .345 and has smacked four home runs this season, says he can't really blame schools for not giving him a second (or first) look on the recruiting trail. He was only 5-4 when he entered high school, a self-described "late bloomer" who excelled because he loved the game. And because he worked at it.
"Even when he was 4 or 5 years old, he'd be in the driveway when I got home -- and I'd have to duck as the ball came at me, because he was ready to throw as soon as I got out of the car,'' Turner's dad, Mark, said. "He used to get mad when it was time to go in to dinner, because he wanted to keep throwing that ball."
Every coach in the league asks, 'How'd you get him?' Every coach has got to have great respect for him. ... We thought he could run; we thought he had speed. But we got a little bit more than we thought.
-- NC State coach Elliott Avent
When Trea Turner was 4, he was playing with the 5-year-olds. When he was 10, his teammates were usually 11 or 12.
"He was always the youngest on his team, the smallest, he always had to prove at each level that he belonged,'' Mark Turner said.
Indeed, the summer before his senior season of high school, Trea Turner was considering only one Division I offer, from Florida Atlantic, when NC State assistant coach Chris Hart received a video from Turner's summer league coach. Intrigued, Hart watched him play some summer games in Atlanta, and the coach was so impressed that he made him a scholarship offer that week.
"He had the stuff I typically like in a player; there's not too many guys who have coordination and the explosiveness that Trea has,'' Hart said.
And it only got better after he committed to the Wolfpack. His senior season at Park Vista High, Turner hit .478 with 25 steals. Most impressive, though, was his increase in speed.
"January of his senior year, he got on the track and his coach timed him with a stopwatch,'' Mark Turner said. "He came in at 6.38, 6.34, 6.37 [seconds in the 60-yard dash] -- and his coach made him keep running because he thought his stopwatch was wrong."
It wasn't. And people started noticing.
Drafted in the 20th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates last June, Trea Turner (who also has been clocked with a 4.27 40) opted to stick with the Pack, staying with a recruiting class ranked fourth in the nation by Baseball America.
He wasn't the most heralded of the group, which also includes ACC freshman of the year/pitcher of the year Carlos Rodon, but as he worked to put on weight (about 10 pounds), he soaked up knowledge. The three most important things he learned about base-stealing once he arrived in Raleigh, he said: being patient at the plate to earn more walks and a better on-base percentage; trusting his instincts to know when he does or doesn't have a good jump; and understanding how to read pitchers' tendencies via scouting reports.
"He's got a unique blend where he really calculates things, but he's got this other side of his brain where he's fearless, and he's confident in his abilities,'' Avent said. "And the two just mesh together."
And he's got even more upside.
With another 10 to 20 pounds of strength on his frame, Hart thinks Turner could hit 10 to 15 home runs come his junior season.
Baseball America national writer Aaron Fitt believes Tuner will be an early-rounds MLB draft pick by then, too, because of his combination of speed, instinct, improving strength and defense.
"He's electrifying; he's the most exciting player in college baseball,'' Fitt said. " They [the Wolfpack] would be a good team without him. But I don't know if they would be hosting a regional. He makes that offense go."
Turner said he is excited about playing in his first NCAA tournament, to see how much farther he can push his stats and help push his team.
"Every single game, I feel like I have something to prove -- whether it's to myself or other people,'' he said.
So he probably won't be surprised if there are a few more of those now-familiar conversations with opposing third-base coaches during the postseason, too.
"There are a lot of teams out there wishing they had found him, had talked to him," Fitt said. "This was a huge get for NC State."