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Colleges: Turner makes progress

December 27, 2010|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
(Daily Pilot File…)

Time will tell if Russell Turner is the genuine basketball coaching star some identify in the former NBA assistant who also cut his coaching teeth at Stanford and Wake Forest.

But now a dozen games into his first season at the helm of the UC Irvine men's program, it cannot be argued that Turner is a genuine person.

From his introductory press conference, the passion with which Turner approaches his job, his players and his considerable mid-major challenge at UCI, has been as apparent as the still-solid 6-foot-7 frame that enabled him to twice earn NCAA Division III All-American honors at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in the early 1990s.

That passion has led to some self-criticism, the foremost example being a demonstrative, profanity-laced double-technical ejection against San Jose State in a Dec. 4 home loss.

And, as the Anteaters (6-6) enter Big West Conference play Tuesday night at home against UC Riverside, it has led to the kind of restless and agonizing self-analysis that rarely occurs outside the competitively charged atmosphere of Division I college and professional athletics.

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Like anyone who not only aspires to, but demands success, Turner's first two months of the season have included plenty of satisfaction and anguish.

But observing Turner after nonconference road setbacks at Pepperdine (Dec. 18) and UCLA (Thursday), it appears that he is already learning how to compartmentalize the unavoidable misery that most coaches experience after a loss.

Both at Pepperdine and UCLA, the Anteaters made determined comebacks, eventually taking, then losing a second-half lead to the Waves; then paring a 14-point deficit to one with a chance to win on the final possession in the final seconds at storied Pauley Pavilion.

After the loss at Pepperdine, Turner, who typically stands most of the game exhorting his players and working officials, was visibly spent. He sat in the postgame locker room, allowing his head to dip perceptibly between slumped shoulders.

Against UCLA, I caught him at courtside after his postgame radio interview. And while clearly disappointed not to have fully completed the comeback, there was a not-so-subtle pride about what his team had nearly achieved in the 74-73 loss to the Bruins.

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