Since Thad Matta took over as coach at Ohio State, no player has asserted himself as the face of the program quite like junior Evan Turner.
Although Greg Oden can be considered the most recognized Buckeye under Matta, Turner is pushing to be the most successful during Matta’s tenure.
Turner’s legend is growing, from a guy who was barely known when he first enrolled at OSU, to the most prominent basketball Buckeye over the last several years.
Very little attention was originally paid to Turner. A modest four-star prospect, he wasn’t even the most heralded prospect in the Buckeyes’ 2007 recruiting class. He wasn’t even the second-most touted player.
Those honors belong to Kosta Koufos and Jon Diebler, who both have made a mark on OSU basketball. Turner, however, as both a leader and player, has gone above and beyond the expectations most had for him.
The 6 feet 7 inch first-team All-Big Ten selection knew he would get an opportunity to prove himself. Turner’s accomplishments and accolades might be a surprise to some, but not him.
The fact that he wasn’t the No. 1 player in the country, or even in his own class, didn’t discourage him.
“When you’re younger you always say ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda,'” Turner said of his level of respect coming into OSU. “One of my close friends always told me, it’s not where you start, it’s where you end.”
Turner will finish with more accomplishments at Ohio State than any other player in the Matta era thus far. He became only the second Buckeye to record a triple-double, doing it twice so far this season. He earned an All-American honorable mention as a sophomore and many believed after his strong start he was in the running for the Naismith College Player of the Year award.
Unfortunately, a freak back injury from a dunk attempt in early December has put a bump in Turner’s road toward a great season.
Even in an unfortunate situation, Turner’s popularity and legend is growing.
Doctors and trainers said it would take Turner eight weeks to return from two vertebrae fractures. The Buckeyes’ most valuable player cut that recovery time in half. He played against Indiana last week, a little more than a month after his injury.
“It felt alright,” Turner said about his back after his first two games. “I was still a little bit out of shape, but I was glad to be playing. I’m starting to get my rhythm back a little bit more; I have to get my feel back a little bit.”
It is determination and hard work, which Turner used to overcome his serious injury that has made him a fan favorite.
Turner remembers being a freshman and not receiving any attention. Whether it was in class or on the court, he wasn’t anything special, at least not yet. He was fine with being just like any other college student before he became high profile.
“I get a little bit of love,” Turner said jokingly about being noticed on campus. “Some people talk, some people do double takes and some people just stare.
“It’s kind of different. I remember back when nobody even knew my name, nobody even cared.”
People know his name now, and he is probably the greatest example OSU has of what college basketball can produce if a guy isn’t “one and done.”
Turner’s projection to the NBA has risen significantly. Along with his fame, his stock has skyrocketed. Analysts believe that if Turner would have left for the NBA after last season, there was a good chance that he could have been a lottery pick. With the kind of season Turner has had so far and with what could be to come, he should project even higher.
“I always had a little bit of confidence that I would be superior in certain aspects of the game so I just worked hard and kept working hard,” Turner said of his mentality to improve. “That’s what helped me not just be any old guy on the court.”
Matta has had some great players in his time here at OSU. Oden, Michael Conley, Daequan Cook, Koufos and several others have been special, but maybe not as special as Turner.
“I think that’s the beauty of it, as you look at it, so much is made about where a kid is ranked,” Matta said of Turner exceeding expectations. “I always use [Evan] as a classic example. He might have been top 100, he probably knows, but he wasn’t a top 10 player. Now I look and I think he’s a top 10 player in college basketball.”