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Turner’s NBA Stock Is Rising

NEWSDAY

John Turner left Georgetown two years ago with the unofficial designation as “bad influence on Alonzo Mourning.” Turner had become friends with a guy who ran summer basketball leagues but who also was suspected of being a Washington, D.C., drug kingpin. Mourning and Turner also were friends. Georgetown Coach John Thompson apparently decided the best way to end the possibility of Mourning having a friend who had a friend who might be a drug dealer would be to get rid of Turner.

So he asked Turner to leave Georgetown. Turner said fine, and then did something different.

He went to Enid, Okla.

“It was a big change,” he said, apparently attempting to prove he mastered the art of understatement while attending Phillips University.

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Despite the relative isolation, Turner never lost the dream of playing in the NBA. He worked hard on his game and received expert coaching from Denny Price, the father of Cavaliers guard Mark Price.

The 6-8, 253-pound Turner is far from a finished product, but he demonstrated such impressive potential in two pre-draft camps that he is almost certain to be a first-round pick in the June draft.

“He’s got an NBA body, he works extremely hard and he’s not afraid to mingle underneath the basket,” NBA scout Marty Blake said. “He’s a much better shooter than I thought, and he really wants to play.”

That’s obvious. You leave Washington for Enid for two reasons: to play ball and study. Turner did each very well. This past season, he averaged 23.9 points and 13.7 points and was an NAIA first-team All-America. He also is only nine hours short of a degree in sociology, which he plans to earn in summer school.

“I accomplished a lot,” he said. “It was a good experience.”

Having Price as a coach was a valuable experience. Price, in fact, did more for Turner’s potential NBA career than Thompson. Price encouraged Turner to develop an outside game without abandoning his low-post game. And he told him not to worry about exposure. NBA scouts found Dennis Rodman at Southeastern Oklahoma State in Durant and Scottie Pippen at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

“The Dennis Rodmans and Scottie Pippens opened the door for the smaller-school guys like myself,” Turner said. “So I didn’t think I was going to get buried.”

But his college days were much different than he envisioned while attending Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. There, he did not fancy himself as the next Rodman or Pippen.

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“I wanted to play at Georgetown,” Turner said. “I always had watched Patrick Ewing and I always wanted to play there. I did, and I don’t have any regrets.”

Turner says he is not bitter toward Thompson for asking him to leave Georgetown, where he started 27 games during the 1988-89 season, averaging 6.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. But Turner said some of the accusations about him being a bad influence on Mourning were not true.

“Me and Alonzo were buddies,” he said, “and I would never try to do anything to hurt any of the players, including myself. But that’s what a lot of people were saying, that I was a bad influence. But deep inside, I know the truth and I know deep inside, Alonzo knows the truth.”

Turner said that after leaving Georgetown in May, 1989, “I just put it all behind me and started over. I had to work harder to get where I’m at now, but it’s paying off for me.”

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Last week, Turner was the Most Valuable Player of the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational, a camp that usually features players projected as second-round picks. Turner played so well he was invited to the Orlando Classic, which features 37 of the top seniors in the country.

He has continued to play well and demonstrated skills that would have served Georgetown well during the recent NCAA Tournament.

Turner said he watched the Hoyas lose to UNLV and said, “I really thought if I was out there, I could have helped.”

Instead, he was preparing for camps that would help him have an NBA career. And even though he has not yet made it, he at least can be content in knowing that rejection by Thompson has not hurt his professional opportunities one bit.

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