Ohio State coach Thad Matta has coached a national Player of the Year before, so when he quickly compares current Buckeyes star Evan Turner to former Xavier standout David West, it's instructive.
In Turner, he sees the same kind of intelligent approach to the game and a refined sense of the moment that allows him to deliver whatever his team needs at the most crucial junctures.
Then Matta tosses this on top.
"I think [Evan] is probably one of the most ultracompetitive kids I have ever coached," Matta said. "Winning is very, very important to him. He's just the type of the guy in practice that he needs a score, he needs time on a clock. There's got to be a prize at the end, and I think that's what great players all seem to have."
That competitive drive helps explain what you're seeing now, the completion of Turner's evolution from freshman-year complement (capping that season by combining for 37 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in the NIT Final Four) to sophomore leading man to genuine national Player of the Year candidate. Not to mention Turner basically switched positions before this season. When Matta suggested some summer drills to prime the forward for extended work at point guard, his star dove in eagerly.
"He's one of those guys who's very critical of his game and is not afraid to admit he has faults," Matta said. "A lot of kids don't want to admit that, 'Hey, I'm not good at this.' And they sure as heck don't want to work on it. Evan is a kid who knows the game, he knows what he needs to get better at, and he's going to put in the work."
All that work on his supposed flaws? It has Turner positioned to end up in some very rarefied air.
First, let's examine this season. Despite a fractured back that cost him close to seven games, Turner should be the leading candidate for the Naismith Award (along with the bevy of other Player of the Year awards). With due respect to the other top candidates, a comparison of performance right now isn't all that close:
Turner is almost as efficient offensively as John Wall and Damion James, the two other high-usage players on the list, despite handling the ball a lot more. His effective field goal percentage also is significantly better than either of them, even though he's made only six three-pointers all season (Wall has made 16; James has 20). Meanwhile, Turner's assist rate is better than the best point guard in the land, and he's almost the glass-cleaning equal of James, an elite rebounder, and much better than Wesley Johnson.
Simply put, he's essentially a combination of the best traits of each of his competitors: Johnson's shooting, Wall's dishing and James' board work.
For high-usage players (greater than 28 percent of a team's possessions) in major conferences, Turner is second in possessions used and has the nation's best assist rate while still ranking eighth in offensive efficiency. And that doesn't even account for his overall defensive impact or the seemingly seamless way he stuffs his stat lines.
"I don't go in saying I have to get 10 assists today or something. I just play basketball," Turner said. "If I see an open man, I pass the ball. If I see an open shot, I take the shot. I always try to rebound, play defense, and when it's time to take the game over, that's what I do."
That's what he's usually been able to do, even against more rugged competition. The Buckeyes are 5-3 against RPI Top 100 teams with Turner -- and 0-3 without him.
Bottom line: If he keeps this up, POY should be his, and the better debate might be where Turner's season would place in the modern history of college basketball.
Right now, Turner is averaging 18.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. However, if you exclude the seven-minute outing against Eastern Michigan (when he was injured) and his 20-minute return against Indiana, those averages jump to 20.7, 11.0 and 5.8. If Turner can maintain those standards (technically, he'd need about a 0.5 ppg bump in scoring), he will complete one of the most statistically improbable seasons in modern basketball history.
How rare is a 20/10/5 year in college hoops? According to Ohio State's sports information department, which consulted with Stats Inc., no Division I player has completed one since at least 1996. Stats Inc.'s best guess as to the last player to do it is Larry Bird at Indiana State in 1978-79, and that wasn't even in a major conference. Searching independently, the last player who did it in a top-tier league may have been Bill Walton at UCLA in 1972-73.
Think about what that means. Grant Hill (17.4/6.9/5.2) never got there. Neither did Dwayne Wade (21.5/6.3/4.4). Tim Duncan came moderately close (20.8/14.7/3.2), but still didn't do it. Even less-remembered one-man wrecking crews like N.C. State's Tom Gugliotta (22.5/9.8/3.1) couldn't get there.
The best proxies? The two most freakishly multitalented stars of the modern era: Magic Johnson (17.0/7.9/7.4 and 17.1/7.3/8.4 in his two seasons) and Jason Kidd (16.7/6.9/9.1 his sophomore season). Both had outrageously impactful seasons, but each still missed on two of these three specific metrics.
More recently, there have been only 19 20/10 guys in Division I in the last five seasons combined, and none averaged more than 2.7 assists per game. Yes, it takes a perfect confluence of events -- a multidimensional star playing with a solid supporting cast that lacks a true second go-to guy -- but the sheer rarity of the feat hints at both Turner's uniqueness and his quality.
If Kentucky ends the season at No. 1, Wall rightly will get a long look for Player of the Year. He's lived up to all expectations and team success, especially for a point guard, should be strongly considered. That said, if Turner does make it to 20/10/5 and Ohio State continues to thrive, the POY debate should be settled. If you deliver arguably the most dynamic season of the last 30 years, you have to be considered the best player in the land.