When Evan Turner arrives in Colorado Springs, Co., he will be greeted by at least one familiar face.
The Ohio State swingman was one of 15 players to accept invitations to try out for the USA Basketball Men’s World University Games Team, and the workouts kick off June 16. The final list of 12 players who will head to Serbia for the games will be chosen by the team’s coaching staff, headed by Wisconsin head man Bo Ryan.
But rather than get into a territorial scrap that comes with playing each other in Big Ten play, Turner is excited for the opportunity to play for Ryan.
“Me and Coach Ryan, ever since I was 16 we always talked when we’d see each other on the road if we were at the same tournament or in the same vicinity,” Turner said in advance of his trip to Colorado. “He’s a great guy. I haven’t fully talked to Coach Ryan yet, but we’re both pretty excited to maybe have an opportunity to work together.”
A native of Chicago, Turner eventually selected OSU over finalists Illinois and Wisconsin after meeting other future Buckeyes Jon Diebler, Kosta Koufos and Dallas Lauderdale at a camp. But through the recruiting process, Turner found himself gravitating toward Ryan and the values he espoused about his program.
It was enough to make him seriously consider the Badgers.
“I really felt at home there,” Turner said. “He’s a great guy. He talked to my mom and my brothers and he spoke sincerely. You could tell he knows a lot about the game, he’s real wise and a great all-around dude. He’s somebody I wouldn’t mind playing for, and I really thought I was going to end up playing for him at Wisconsin.”
Fast-forward nearly three years later, and Turner is entering his junior season for the Buckeyes after earning unanimous first-team all-Big Ten honors as a sophomore. However, the relationship between Turner and Ryan remains warm. The two greeted each other amicably during the Big Ten media kickoff last year in Chicago.
The good feelings from Madison continued during early June, when Turner received a congratulatory text message from Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore. It was Moore who was Turner’s primary recruiter, he said.
Despite the contact with the Badgers, Turner said OSU head coach Thad Matta is feeling overly protective this summer.
“I think Coach Matta and Coach Ryan are really cool,” he said. “Coach Matta isn’t too insecure. I jumped on the opportunity. Coach Matta was always straightforward and he seemed like a players’ coach and I felt like he could make me better.”
The Buckeyes and Badgers have had some physical battles during Turner’s tenure in Columbus. There is little love lost between the two schools, and that could escalate should Turner not make the cut in Colorado.
“I don’t think Coach Ryan is scared of anything, but if he did cut me I’d put it in the back of my mind and have a little motivation,” Turner said, “but we’re not even going to think about that.”
As he prepared for the tryouts, Turner said he relied on women’s basketball standout Jantel Lavender for some advice.
“She’s played with the USA team for the past couple of years and she said to do the little things like rebound and play defense and just play tough and play hard and everything should be all right,” Turner said. “That’s what I’m going to do: just come in and play my game, do what I’ve been doing ever since I started playing basketball.”
In addition, teammate David Lighty – a member of the United States U-19 World Championship team two summers ago – offered him some tips. Basketball was not the only topic covered.
“He asked me if he was going to make the team and I said he doesn’t have to worry about that at all if he plays his game,” Lighty said. “The one thing I told him about is the food over there is a little different. He really doesn’t like to eat certain things. He’ll go somewhere and just eat four rolls of bread while we’re all eating steak or something like that. He’s real picky about what he eats.”
If Turner finds himself searching for familiar faces, he will not have to look far. He will be joined in Colorado by Penn State’s Talor Battle, Illinois’ Mike Davis and Purdue’s Robbie Hummel and JuJuan Johnson. The Buckeye said he will make peace with them – at least temporarily.
“They seem like good guys,” Turner said with a laugh. “The fact that it’s a Big Ten rivalry makes it tough, but I’m going to do it for America.”