Being Texas' Myles Turner isn't easy

AUSTIN, Texas -- He's standing in a corridor and the walls will soon collapse around him. Rick Barnes' frustration with the losses and the tumbling in the Big 12 standings spills into the hallway of the Frank Erwin Center.

Minutes after a Jan. 24 loss to Kansas, which starts a four-game losing streak that ultimately tosses the Longhorns from the Big 12 title conversation, he vents to a smattering of bystanders still lingering between the concrete interior of the 38-year-old edifice.

"Myles has to want the ball," he says. "He has to want the ball."

Myles Turner, who has wrestled with inconsistency all season, isn't the sole culprit in this mess. But he's also not spared.

Not in this one-and-done climate.

The 7-footer was the No. 2 prospect in the country last summer, per RecruitingNation. He's a top-10 pick on most NBA mock draft boards. He's an efficient, shot-blocking terror who's still growing.

Into his body.

Into his game, one that prefers jump shots over banging in the paint.

Into this role of the young cowboy who was sent to Austin to save a Texas program that's clearly in distress.

His youth is irrelevant.

The legacies of college basketball's Myles Turners are defined by their lone seasons at the collegiate level these days. When you're ranked ahead of every player in America not named Jahlil Okafor in high school, the pressure to perform rises.

This is probably it for him. His parents have secured a multimillion-dollar insurance policy for the big man that will protect him financially if he suffers a career-altering injury. That's often evidence that a player will declare for the NBA draft and sign with an agent shortly after the season ends.

There is just one month to go before Selection Sunday.

So Turner, much like the entire Texas program -- which has lost four of five and six of its past nine heading into Wednesday's game against TCU (8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network) -- is running out of time to show what he's capable of.

The NBA is watching. Barnes is watching. Texas fans are watching.

It's all happening so fast for a youngster who's been instructed to take his time -- and improve as quickly as he can.

"That form of player is difficult to guard," said T.J. Ford, a former Longhorns star and Wooden Award winner. "Basketball is instincts, and if you can't use your instincts, then you're limited at the end of the day. I don't care how good you are. If you don't have good instincts, you're limited."

The Frustrations Of Myles Turner

The night before a scheduled media interview, Turner phones Texas sports information director Scott McConnell and tells him that he'd prefer to ride his bike to the practice facility for the one-on-one. McConnell says no. He'll send a graduate assistant to scoop the big man. Good thing for Turner, too.

It's raining Houston-sized buckets on the city of Austin the following morning.

"I've actually had the same bike since about sophomore year [of high school] because it was easier to get to school," Turner says. "I'm not about to walk everywhere. Why not ride a bike? So I brought it with me."

Before he committed to Texas while wearing a bucket hat in a televised news conference, he'd pulled the Longhorns from the brood of schools pursuing his services when he woke up one morning, fixed his eyes onto a Texas pin posted onto his wall and figured it was a sign. The day Kevin Durant signed a pair of his $14.99 Stephon Marbury shoes at a basketball event -- shoes Turner still has -- helped, too.

He'd fallen for Kansas. He developed a bond with Ohio State coach Thad Matta, too. Repping his city -- and state -- appealed to the Dallas native, though.

But his proportions scripted his path to Texas more than anything. He was 6-foot-2 and chubby in eighth grade. He was 7 feet tall and 200-plus pounds by his senior year of high school. He once grew from a size 14 to a size 17 shoe in just two weeks.

His aunt had purchased a pair of LeBron's signature shoes for him. And within days, they'd felt uncomfortable.

"I said, 'Mom, these don't fit,'" Turner recalls. "She said, 'Why would you let your aunt buy you shoes that don't fit?'" A salesman later confirmed that he'd jumped three sizes, a spurt that ruined his sandlot dreams, too.

His father was a Mets fan, and Turner idolized former Texas Rangers star Alex Rodriguez when he was in middle school. He played catcher and outfielder and thought, briefly, that he had a professional future in baseball.

"I loved baseball," Turner says. "I always did both. I tried to juggle them both. But the strike zone got a little too big."

Then, the freshman football coach at Trinity High School (Euless, Texas) figured Turner would be a solid offensive lineman. That didn't work, either. Turner initially thought right tackle was a defensive position. Daily battles with hefty members of a football program that won three Class 5A state titles from 2005 through 2009 led to an early retirement and an emphasis on basketball.

As he approaches you in person, it's clear he made the proper choice.

Turner has learned to walk on his stilts. His arms are redwood branches. His hands are curly fries. Most folks could use his Texas Longhorns T-shirts as blankets or temporary shelters.

All physical attributes that crafted the monumental hype, which sent Turner soaring in the rankings in his final two years of high school. First, he was 86th as a junior. Then, he was 10th. After that, he was second. And then he was the next ... insert the name of your favorite big man here.

But as he settles into a leather seat in the conference room of the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion, Turner begins to criticize the highest-rated big man that Barnes has ever recruited at Texas.

"I am 7 feet tall and I should be in the paint," Turner confesses. "The 3-point line should be something [where] if I'm open, I'll take it. But I need to get more physical in the paint, make my presence known on the block a little bit more. Watching film, I have the tendency just to float around the perimeter sometimes."

It's remarkable, really. A teenager who acknowledges his hiccups. A young man who understands that the praise in high school becomes scrutiny months after elite recruits reach campus. He chooses to take the charge instead of fleeing the negative appraisals.

The stat lines convey more positivity than he reveals.

He's averaging 11.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 2.8 BPG. He's shooting 85 percent from the free throw line and 33 percent from the 3-point line. He's ranked first in efficiency among Big 12 players with a usage rate of 24 percent or higher, per Ken Pomeroy. Through late January, he was rated higher than Okafor and Karl Anthony-Towns in the WARP projections of ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton. He blocks 12.94 percent of his opponents' field goal attempts inside the arc when he's on the court, 10th in the nation, per Ken Pomeroy.

Yet, he went 1-for-5 in a loss to Kentucky on Dec. 5. A month before that, he took only three shots against Iowa. He scored four points in a blowout loss to Oklahoma in early January. He missed seven of his 11 shots against Kansas three weeks ago. He's registered just 17 points combined in Texas' last three games.

It's those struggles that worry him. Why hasn't he done more in key moments? Why hasn't he been more consistent and effective? Why hasn't he dominated?

"I was doing really good against the bad teams, but when it came to prime time, I was like, 'Man, what's going on?'" he says. "Everyone told me to not worry about what people say. I was pretty down on myself."

Some NBA scouts have asked similar questions. Turner, if he decides to turn pro this summer, will likely secure a top-10 slot. Yet, his ceiling and value at the next level remain unclear.

"He's a very good defender, above-average rebounder and has potentially, a very real go-to weapon in his turnaround jumper," said one Eastern Conference scout. "His spot-up jumper isn't as good as he thinks it is."

Barnes understood the complexities when he recruited Turner. The freshman's style is more Euro than American big man. He's enamored with the 14-footer. He releases the ball high, so it's nearly impossible to block him. He swats shots and rebounds. He's not, however, always as assertive as he needs to be. And his comfort on the perimeter demands limits.

"You see him, you watch him play, he should be on the block all the time," Barnes said after the January loss to Kansas in Austin. "I think he could be a dominant 12-foot-and-in player. He doesn't have to get in there and try to be physical. I just think he catches that thing anywhere from 10, 12 feet in ... I think he can dominate. But he's got to want to do it all the time. And then his teammates have to want to get him the ball. That's a big part of it, too."

Myles Turner Is On The Clock

Barnes loves his quesadillas. The folks at Arturo's Underground Cafe know his order before he says a word. He's come to this festive, colorful joint for a decade.

The Hickory, North Carolina, native mourns the day they tore down "ma Sonic," but he's content on lunchtime runs -- Barnes maneuvers on the city's sidewalks like some possessed racewalker -- to this spot.

And it's the same meal every trip. The honey-adobo chicken quesadilla. Hold the caramelized onions.

"I'll grab a spot," he says.

He beams from the table nudged into a crevice of the bigger-than-it-looks-on-the-outside restaurant. It's late January and the Jayhawks have yet to arrive. He's both excited and tempered about the 2014-15 team. He's proud of his squad's chemistry.

Two seasons ago, a messy culture nearly ruined the Longhorns and Barnes. Multiple players transferred, but Barnes, who began the season on the hot seat, led Texas to the NCAA tournament a year after the program finished 16-18 (7-11 in the Big 12) and ended with a loss in the first round of the CBI.

He's aware, however, that his current team can do more. Can be more. Must be more if it is to corral the critics, who were once supporters who figured Texas would be on top of the Big 12 right now.

That idea requires Turner to evolve with a rapidity that eludes most freshmen. Still, Okafor and Towns and other youngsters continue to prove that the most talented freshmen can impose their wills on veteran players. That's the goal and the expectation in 2015.

Meanwhile, Turner is still stuck on some of the basics.

"This is as elementary as it gets," Barnes barks at Turner in practice after he shot a 3-pointer. "Get your butt underneath the basket."

But Barnes, his staff and those close to Turner believe he'll fly soon. They can see his growth. They've admired the changes. Now, they're just anticipating the day -- hopefully soon -- it all comes together.

"You gotta remember, Myles is 18 years old, and as he gets older, the things he can already do right now -- some of the things people have seen, some of the things only we've seen behind closed doors -- all of that is going to start to come out," says Ken "Slim" Roberson, who has trained Turner since Turner was 13 years old and also helped Karl Malone and Chris Bosh. "We're working on it. Texas is working on it. It's a work in progress. ... Man, once it all comes together? It's gonna be scary."

Turner, like the other Longhorns, has a detailed strength and conditioning program that's scheduled through early March. That's a positive for any athlete.

It's also a plus that his shoes finally fit.

He wore a size 21 when he arrived. Barnes thought Turner had an odd gait and asked staffers to measure his foot. They discovered that Turner was actually a size 19, but the arc of his foot required bigger shoes. So Turner wears custom-made footwear.

Every component of his body is addressed. Sometimes, he sits in the training room and stretches each toe. The minutiae of this organized approach to improvement and progress dates back to his childhood.

His mother, Mary Turner, cut off the TV during the week and encouraged him to shoot free throws on a 10-foot goal when he was in elementary school. When he was sidelined for six months in high school with a right ankle injury, his father, David Turner, pushed him through two-a-day weightlifting sessions in the family's garage that ultimately added 25-plus pounds to his lithe frame.

He drank alkaline water in high school because its elevated pH values supposedly boast health benefits. His friends went to the movies and parties while he worked on his midrange game.

Today, Turner's access to UT's first-class facilities allows trained technicians to tweak him constantly.

Todd Wright, one of the team's two full-time strength coaches, is an educated Bostonian who's mastered a life's worth of physiological jargon along with Rosetta Stone's profanity edition. He discusses vectors and sub-maximum loads that will apparently help Turner get tougher in the paint. Then, he compares the freshman to a baby deer who will one day turn into "a badass m-----f-----."

He leans forward in a chair positioned toward the front of the squad's expansive weight room as he speaks. He means this. He's seen greatness. He trained Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. And Turner has that same relentlessness in the untelevised moments that molded those players, Wright says.

"You see the baby deer," Wright says. "And all of a sudden he does something that looks like a young Kevin Garnett and you're like holy s---. And that's just a matter of time. It's a process. There's no magic pill that you take."

He was impressed when Turner showed up to a 5:15 a.m. preseason workout even though he wasn't cleared to participate. There's more to that story, though. Veteran guard Javan Felix had heckled the freshman about relaxing in his room while the others broke a sweat before sunrise. He "encouraged" Turner to join them.

"Yeah, he came," Felix says. "Myles has grown a lot. His confidence is getting better. He's starting to understand more and more of our concepts. He's starting to get more and more consistent."

Wright says Turner has set an example for the program. He's the first guy in the weight room before tipoff. He's here in Austin to work.

In a different era, Turner's contributions would be highlighted, not scrutinized. His freshman numbers are better than Aldridge's marks (9.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG). He's a key reason the Longhorns have held opponents to a 37.8 percent clip inside the arc, third nationally, according to Ken Pomeroy.

Texas has problems. But Turner certainly isn't its most significant issue. His development, or lack thereof, in the final weeks of the 2014-15 season will have an effect on the program. But four losses in five games cannot be tied to the shortcomings of one player.

This is not just Turner's fault.

He's attempting to stomach an advanced level of basketball, a difficult process for most underclassmen. He's facing bigger, stronger players for the first time in his life.

And he's also adjusting to life off the court, if that matters.

He likes to play video games. He socializes with the starters and the walk-ons. He's a good student, a self-proclaimed "nerd." He's close to his 12-year-old little sister, M'ya. He encourages his mother on her roughest days. He's not a complainer. He's an optimist. He admits his errors and conducts his affairs with a unique maturity that men twice his age often fail to attain.

He's a lottery pick who traverses the UT campus on a bicycle.

That's all secondary, though. When you're Myles Turner, you're asked to perform. Fast.

There's just no time to grow. No grace period for greatness.

It's an existence that Turner has seemed to accept.

"I want to do more of the stuff to help the team out -- rebound, block shots -- that puts us in a better position to be successful," Turner says. "I still make mistakes every now and then. It feels like I should be getting this stuff by now. It should be clicking. These little freshman mistakes, they shouldn't be there."

The same could be said about some of the criticism.