I truly was blessed this past season and postseason to have had the opportunity to closely cover college basketball's most decorated player in Ohio State's Evan Turner.
"His Royal Smoothness" as we like to call him, won the Wooden, the Naismith and pretty much every other national college basketball player of the year award. We all know how good he is; he'll likely be the first or second guy picked in the 2010 NBA Draft after Kentucky's John Wall goes first overall.
We've already heard all about his many strengths. He could very well be the next Scottie Pippen. But he's still far from perfect. As transcendent as his game seems at times, there are still some flaws.
At times his appearance on the court is less than ideal. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he sounds like Kermit the Frog, or looks like a dinosaur. I've even heard these opinions expressed working for THE Ohio State University. During the tournament's first weekend his body language and overall composure were less than ideal.
A reporter questioned his collegiate coach Thad Matta about this. He answered by deflecting and changing the topic. "I thought that there was a couple of things that were happening. I was trying to get changed as well. But he's just got to keep the composure and keep playing through it...Nobody pays attention to his defense. He did a tremendous job defending us well tonight and really using his length off their stack actions," Matta said.
I had some off-the-record conversations with the teams that Ohio State eliminated in the NCAAs, and members of the opposing coaching staffs basically told me they were disappointed in how Turner looked in real time when compared against how he looked on film. They were disappointed in his demeanor, how they perceived his maturity, and how he acted on the court given his prestigious stature as a player.
And when opponents got physical with him, he didn't seem to react well. Turner got rattled quite a bit during the first game of the NCAA Tournament, a blowout win over UC-Santa Barbara. And in the Big Ten Tournament, the trash-talking Illini got in his head and under his skin. Here's a video I shot of him in the locker room after the game. He's voicing his frustration over the Illinois "front-runners."
Of course, polarization is just the nature of the beast when you're a big star. Turner has a lot of BFFs among big-time college basketball stars, but he's also so hated by opponents that his teammates call him "The Villain."
In March, I actually got tired of coaches and announcers making the "he almost had a quadruple double, if you count the turnovers" joke every time Turner got a triple double, or close to it. The joke eventually got more annoying and played out than "Flo" and her Progressive insurance advertisements.
During March Madness a reporter questioned Matta about Turner's tendency to turn the ball over, and again he deflected the question without really answering.
"I love him being out there - a lot of times just for the defense. I think everybody only watches him on offense. But he gets his hands on so many balls and 6-7 with his wing span, he was challenging shots at 24 feet that you really don't notice. And then when that thing goes up, a lot of times he's coming up with the rebound, and he does a great job in that regard," Matta responded.
Of course in the grand scheme of things, his turnovers are not that big of a deal because he's going to be playing the three in the NBA. He only played the point at Ohio State because they had absolutely no other options. Their best alternative was P.J. Hill for crying out loud. Of course, in the NBA the small forward position is to talented athletes what Elisabeth Hasselbeck is to sounding idiotic, so "His Royal Smoothness" will have some TOUGH matchups on his hands when he gets into the league.
But when you look at his entire upside, his turnovers aren't really the end of the world. Matta summed it up best following the Buckeyes' final victory of the season; a second-round defeat over Georgia Tech in which Turner had 24 points, 9 rebounds and also nine of his team's 18 turnovers.
"As long as he gets me 24 and 9 and 9, I'll leave with it. Obviously, we'd like it to cut down. In that type of situation we're going to put the ball in his hands a lot and he's going to make decisions... I thought when the time was needed, he delivered for us," Matta said.