Christian Lautenschleger / Lantern photographer
As if Evan Turner didn’t do enough already.
In the game of basketball, guards typically handle the ball and pass, forwards shoot and score and centers rebound and block shots. So what position is Turner, who led Ohio State in points, rebounds, assists, 3-point percentage and steals a year ago?
“He would be your hybrid point forward, whatever those announcers call those guys,” coach Thad Matta said. “He’s a guy that can do a lot of different things.”
Technically speaking, Turner started all 33 games last season at shooting guard, with juniors Jeremie Simmons and P.J. Hill splitting the point guard duties. But the 6-foot-7 swingman handled the leather as much as any point guard would, as evidenced by his team-high 7.1 assists per game.
As the Buckeyes turn the page on a new season, Matta will present Turner with a new role to add to his arsenal: the team’s true point guard.
“I think I’m going to do a little bit of everything,” said Turner, a First Team All-Big Ten selection last year. “I’m going to start off at point guard, trying to orchestrate the team. I always prefer to have the ball in my hands and try to have control over the game.”
While his all-around statistics impress, Turner’s passing ability caught Matta’s eye, triggering the idea to start the junior at the point.
“One thing I’ve seen a lot of improvement in is Evan’s passing,” Matta said. “That’s something that we talked about in the offseason. From that standpoint, we’ve got to get him the ball in certain situations because he finds guys, and it’s advantageous for us where he is when he catches it. The defense has a lot of decisions to make. When we have guys around him that can shoot it, that’s good for us.”
The switch means that Hill and Simmons will both come off the bench, a demotion they refuse to scoff at, knowing full well that the team excels best when Turner possesses the ball.
“It benefits us a lot because Evan is such a great player that he can not only create for himself, but he can create for others,” Hill said. “That makes the game easy when a guy can drive. Everybody is all eyes on him, they help, we move into position, and he gets us the ball on time every time where we want it.
“And even if they don’t help, then he scores. Good things happen when he has the ball. He’s a very special player.”
Matta hopes that the move will enable Turner’s teammates to contribute more for a team that won 22 games and lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
While defenses concentrate on Turner setting up the offense, forward David Lighty expects the rest of the players on the court to get less attention, and open shots as a result.
“He creates for everyone out there on the floor,” said Lighty, who missed the majority of last season with a broken foot. “You have to double-team him because if you don’t, he’s going to hurt you. Whatever defenders have to do to stop him, it’s going to help us out because they have to read him.”
He might not match his league-high 17.3 points per game average from last year, but Turner should find plenty of open teammates.
“I score in other ways,” Turner said. “We have an equal balance of scoring, and it makes it even easier for everyone else on the team. If [his scoring] takes a hit, it takes a hit. We’re just trying to get some more wins in the win column.”
In all, both coaches and players feel that placing Turner at the point puts him — and the team — in the best position to exceed the predicted preseason finish of third in the conference.
“Coach Matta is helping me understand the system more and putting trust in me to carry out what needs to be done,” Turner said. “I think that I can make plays, and I have a lot of teammates who can make shots. Whichever way we go, we’ll try to be successful with it.”