NEW YORK -- Less than a half hour before tip-off of the Jordan Brand Classic last Friday, Myles Turner stood with his arms folded across his chest as he gazed out at the basketball court inside Barclays Center, where a group of the nation’s top high school players eased its way through various warm-up routines.
There was Jahlil Okafor, the star center from Chicago who signed with Duke, and Emmanuel Mudiay, a heralded point guard who will attend Southern Methodist. There were players set to join storied programs in different conferences, on the East Coast and in the heartland, and some considered one-and-done prospects. They had received myriad scholarship offers, whittled down their choices and, in some instances, partaken in grand announcement ceremonies inside packed high school gymnasiums. One piece of knowledge united them: They know where they are going to college.
Turner, a five-star center from Euless, Texas, is the top uncommitted prospect in 2014, a status that has made him, if nothing else, a subject of heightened curiosity. Though an injury sidelined him for the prestigious Jordan Brand national game, it was not surprising when, at the post-game news conference, someone mentioned his name. Power forward Cliff Alexander, who minutes earlier was named co-MVP of the game, said he, fellow Kansas signee Kelly Oubre and former Kansas center Joel Embiid, who was sitting courtside, have lobbied Turner to choose the Jayhawks.
“[Turner] says he’s just weighing out his options right now,” Alexander said. “Me, Kelly and Joel have been talking to him. Joel talked to him earlier today at the hotel, trying to get him to commit. Hopefully he does that.”
Alexander and his cohorts are not alone. A host of other players in the Jordan Brand game, if given the opportunity, would have admitted to recruiting Turner in some form. Their motivation is plain. Turner is a prospect unlike any other in high school, and his college decision, which will be revealed April 30 in a televised ceremony, has the potential to alter the college basketball landscape in 2014-15.
When Turner began his prep career, it did not seem likely this announcement would be so highly anticipated. Turner relied on his size (estimated to be 6-foot-4, 165 pounds) to overwhelm opponents, and his coach at Trinity (Texas) High, Mark Villines, did not foresee greatness in him. “He didn’t explode,” Villines said. “He wasn’t a stud in the eighth grade. He was just a pretty good kid.”
Fully aware that length alone wouldn’t cut it at the high school varsity level, Turner, already a skilled shot-blocker, strove to diversify his game. He worked on his post moves and developed a jump shot, and he learned how to face up and attack the basket. The summer after his freshman season, in which he averaged just under 10 points and seven rebounds, Turner grew about four inches and added at least 20 pounds. Colleges began taking notice. North Texas was the first school Turner remembers receiving a scholarship offer from, early in his sophomore season.
Turner may not have had to wait so long to garner heavy interest from more prestigious schools, but a foot injury that spring – he fractured his tibia while landing after rising to block a shot – forced him to sit out the entire summer, a crucial evaluation period. Turner missed important camps and events on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit. While he rehabilitated the injury, Turner hit the weight room, working mostly on his upper body, with the goal of adding some muscle to his thin frame. When he began his junior season at Trinity, Turner had added 40 pounds. Villines called the injury a “blessing in disguise.”
Turner shone that April at the Houston Ice Breaker Tournament, a turning point in his college search. The number of coaches calling Turner and the frequency of those calls rose, concurrent with Turner’s ascension in the national rankings. After the NBPA Top 100 camp in June, one recruiting service placed him in the top 10.
By the fall of his senior season, in 2013, coaches were inundating Turner with calls and messages. He remembers one day when he received over 100 letters and another when, after a game of NBA 2K at a friend’s house, he opened his phone to find 140 texts. One episode convinced his father, David, to intervene. Turner talked with a reporter deep into the night, and an article published the next morning contained quotes Turner did not remember saying.
“My parents had had enough with that,” Turner said. “They felt like I really needed to focus on school. They didn’t want anything to distract me.”
From then on, Turner could speak to coaches and reporters only on weekends, and all calls would be funneled through his parents, who decided to have Turner’s number changed. Turner felt a sense of relief not having to deal with as many recruiting spiels and interview requests, but the new rules didn’t suppress the excitement surrounding his recruitment. As Turner’s star rose, so did interest in a second sport at Trinity, a school known for its football prowess.
Attendance at home basketball games spiked as Turner led Trinity to consecutive playoff appearances for only the third time in program history. A support section called Red Rising, decked in school colors and wielding flags, became a staple. And in the summer before Turner’s senior season, Villines began receiving calls from organizers of prestigious tournaments, including the State Farm Tournament of Champions in Peoria, Ill., in which Turner tied the tournament record for blocked shots. With Turner averaging nearly 18 points and seven blocks and 12 rebounds a game, Trinity went 24-7 and won the district championship.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Turner said of drumming up interest in Trinity basketball.
Turner was recently measured at 6-foot-11, 240 pounds and is often praised for his combination of size and shooting, but what may serve him best at the next level is his versatility. Turner, who has been likened to three-time NBA All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, can score in the low post, has range out to the perimeter and is particularly adept at blocking shots.
The two areas he hopes to improve in college are his strength and his ability to score with his back to the basket. Turner is drilled multiple times a week by two personal trainers and has worked out in Houston with famous trainer John Lucas. "Potential" is a popular word attached to descriptions of Turner's game. Though he has not yet played in college, Turner is considered a potential lottery pick in the 2015 draft (DraftExpress has him going No. 11).
Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, SMU, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas are the programs Turner is still considering; Texas, Kansas and SMU are regarded as favorites. Turner has made official visits to Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Duke and Texas, as well as other unofficial visits. Turner has kept close watch over the past few weeks on which frontcourt players declared for the NBA draft and spoke with their respective coaches about those decisions. Turner had discussions with Bill Self, for example, about Embiid. But in the end, Turner says, one factor will drive his decision.
“Overall, just wherever I feel the most comfortable,” he said.
As Turner’s announcement nears, fellow 2014 class members are ramping up their efforts to sway him. Buckeyes signee D’Angelo Russell recently challenged Turner to a game of air hockey with significant stakes. “I was just like, ‘If I win, just commit on the spot,’” Russell said. Turner lost. Oubre, who has been recruiting Turner “ever since he stepped up on the scene, pretty much,” made no effort to conceal his desire to play with Turner.
“I know now he has Kansas on his final cut list or whatever,” Oubre said. “And I feel like we’re the best place for him, and I want him to come to Kansas real bad.” For months Turner has been dogged by the same question: Where are you going to college? It will be answered in less than two weeks.