Turiaf Back on Court

Special to The Times

Ronny Turiaf, five months removed from a voided Laker contract and open-heart surgery, resumed his quest for an NBA career Monday night in the unlikely setting of the southwestern Idaho desert.

Showing flashes of the talent and enthusiasm that led the Lakers to draft him out of Gonzaga in the second round in June, Turiaf recorded nine points and five rebounds in his Continental Basketball Assn. debut with the Yakama Sun Kings.

“I feel good. I feel great,” Turiaf said after Yakama’s 120-111 loss to the Idaho Stampede. “It’s just that two, three, four down and backs, and I’m gassed.


“Give me another two weeks, and I’ll be fine,” he said.

The Lakers have indicated that they may be interested in re-signing Turiaf in the near future, and they might have to move fast.

“I’ve got a lot of opportunities overseas,” Turiaf said. “Lucrative contracts. I’ve got to take care of my family.”

Turiaf signed with Yakama (based in Yakima, Wash.) last Wednesday with the Lakers’ blessing.

Turiaf had been scrimmaging in recent weeks with Gonzaga as a graduate assistant coach, but Monday’s game was Turiaf’s first since he played for the Lakers’ entry in the Summer Pro League in Long Beach in July.

“I thought he looked great,” said Yakama Coach Paul Woolpert, a former NBA scout with Seattle, Portland and Atlanta.

“He did everything we asked,” Woolpert said. “He was a defensive presence and an offensive presence.”


Turiaf entered the game late in the first quarter and played 20 minutes (“Probably more than I planned,” Woolpert said) before fouling out in the final minute.

He went three for eight from the field and three for four from the free-throw line, had one blocked shot and no assists, steals or turnovers.

“He was a little rusty, but you can tell there’s a player still there,” said Idaho star Eric Chenowith, who went to camp with the Lakers in 2003. “He was aggressive; he played hard.

“To be honest, I was glad to see him out there, because I’m a Lakers fan. I’m from Orange County. I said a prayer for him during the national anthem.”

Turiaf, a 6-foot-10 inch, 240-pound power forward, scored on baskets ranging from a short jump hook to an 18-foot jumper.

His every move was cheered by about 150 Gonzaga fans who received discounted $10 tickets five months to the day after Turiaf’s enlarged aortic valve was surgically repaired.


“I’m so fortunate, I get so much love wherever I go,” Turiaf said.

At least one of the 3,012 fans at Qwest Arena didn’t seem enamored with the colorful Turiaf.

A spectator in the front row drew an icy glare from Turiaf early in the game.

In case the ragged play and half-filled arena didn’t remind Turiaf that he is in the minor leagues -- however temporarily -- the seven-hour, overnight bus ride back to Yakima probably did the trick.

The Sun Kings and Stampede play again tonight.

“I’ve just got to get my rhythm back on,” Turiaf said before signing autographs and posing for photos with fans after the game.

“It’s good to be back with a team,” he said.