Titans' Turner: Yes, He Delivers : Dunks Are Hit With Fans, Players and Pizza Makers

Times Staff Writer

A popular little promotion at Cal State Fullerton home basketball games is taking a beating these days. After each Titan dunk, fans can turn to a specific page in their programs to see if they have the lucky number. The winner receives a free pizza from a local chain of pizzerias.

The pizza makers have been kept busier than they probably anticipated.

And it's all because of Fullerton's Henry Turner. Among Titan players, nobody dunks it better.

Turner, a 6-foot 7-inch junior forward, sees each dunk as an opportunity to stir the crowd, thereby stirring his teammates.

"When I get one of those, it gets our team motivated," he said. "The crowd loves it, so they get motivated, and that just helps us get on a roll."

Say what you will about the slam. Say it's overdone. Or that college basketball would be better off without it. But there is no disputing the excitement created by Turner's kind of dunks.

Said Titan Coach George McQuarn: "There's nothing bigger in basketball in terms of getting a crowd excited than to lob the ball up there and have some kid like Henry walk in the air, catch it and reverse dunk it. And that's the way it is with Henry. It's almost as if he's walking on air.

"I tell the kids, 'Just throw it up there and he'll go get it.' "

It happened in Tuesday's 88-65 victory over Loyola Marymount. The Titans were leading, 41-34, with the first half about to end. Fullerton had worked some 30 seconds off the clock in an attempt to take the last shot. With about three seconds to go, a shot from the perimeter missed. The ball took a high bounce off the rim before Turner, as if launched from a springboard, grabbed it with one hand and dunked before returning to earth.

Oh, Henry.

The crowd in Titan Gym, generally not a passive bunch to begin with, went bonkers. Loyola Coach Paul Westhead later intimated that the play may have been the game's biggest. Fullerton players left the floor at halftime exchanging hugs and high fives. Loyola left to seek shelter. The Lions were outscored, 9-0, at the outset of the second half.

But there is considerably more to Turner than a guy who can give a team a Soar-Through-Space, In-Your-Face, Rock-The-Place slam. There are several reasons the Titans have induced lumps in the throats and knots in the stomachs of Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. coaches this month by winning seven straight games. Turner is one of the biggest.

He is second to guard Richard Morton in scoring, averaging 16.9 points a game. He is fractions behind forward Derek Jones for the team lead in rebounds at six per game. He leads the team in assists (30) and is second in steals (13). And, he is 9 of 12 from three-point range.

At best, Turner's shooting style can be described as unorthodox, but ugly might be more accurate. It looks as if he's throwing the ball in the general direction of the basket instead of shooting it. But darned if the thing hasn't been going in.

"I can't explain it," he said. "I've seen it on film and I say, 'Do I shoot like that?' It's just the way I've always shot. It's working pretty well for me right now."

McQuarn says Turner's success with the three-point shot is "more a reflection of Henry's mental attitude . . . his self-confidence." He also says that, in his six-plus seasons as Fullerton coach, no player has responded to coaching and worked to improve himself the way Turner has.

"Every kid in my program knows how I feel about Henry," McQuarn said. "It's an attitude that he has . . . an attitude about his play. I'm very into kids taking responsibility for their play the way he does."

All of this from a coach who was considering redshirting Turner after recruiting him from Fremont High School in Oakland three years ago. Turner went to high school just across the Bay Bridge from Morton, who prepped at San Francisco's Balboa High. During recruiting time, Turner and Morton, who had become friends through playing against each other, decided to visit Fullerton together. Both became Titans, which has proved to be a major recruiting coup for McQuarn.

But Turner came to Fullerton with a reputation as a flashy offensive player and not much else. Defense?

"In high school, that was more like, 'Let 'em shoot so we can get the ball back,' " Turner said.

McQuarn thought of redshirting him to "establish a fundamental foundation," but decided instead to let him play sparingly. Turner considers the season a learning experience. And he had plenty of motivation to learn.

It seems a few of the folks back home didn't think Henry Turner would amount to much in basketball.

"It's funny because, when I first signed with Fullerton, there were a lot of people back in Oakland saying, 'He's not going to be good enough to go into a four-year institution and play.' A lot of people thought I should have gone to a junior college first. Referees, coaches . . . they were saying, 'He's not going to make it. He'll be back.'

"I guess that was incentive to make me stay here and hang with it, because I do have something to prove to everybody back home. Every year I've gone back, people have said, 'Henry, you hung in there a year, but you'll be back this year.' I'm going to show them. I'm not going to be back. A lot of guys have ended up going back . . . they transfer or quit. I'm not going to be one of those guys. That's a label that I don't want."

It's a label he'll never have to worry about getting from McQuarn. Rarely has the fiery Titan coach spoken with such unabashed pride about one of his players. And the strong feelings appear to be mutual. McQuarn can be a demanding coach, but Turner says his demands are usually fair.

"He analyzes us before the season and pretty much knows what we can do and what we can't do," Turner said. "He knows our limitations. I don't think he expects any more from you than what you can do. But if he knows you can do better--let's say if you're only going 80%--he's going to get you to go 100. You have to go at a hard pace.

"But our whole team's attitude is Coach is the leader. He's the chief and we're the braves. If we do what he says, we're going to win."

So far, The Chief has liked what he's seen. And he sees well beyond Turner's talent for "walking on air."

"The crowd's gonna to look at the dunks and the jumping (ability)," McQuarn said. "Sportswriters are gonna look at the three-point shots. But the old coach is gonna look at everything and say, 'That guy is a heck of a player.' "

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