Andre Turner remembers the night vividly.
His son, A.J. Turner, was a star basketball player at Algonquin Middle School in Clinton, Mich., preparing for one of the biggest games of his young career. Algonquin was matched up against its biggest rival, Seneca Middle School, of Macomb, Mich. Only a short stretch of open roadway on Route 97 separated the two schools, between which there was a great deal of animosity on the hardwood.
Seneca was coached by Jermaine Jackson, Turner’s former AAU coach, and many of the Jaguars’ players had been on one of Turner’s teams at some point in the past. When Algonquin played Seneca, though, friendships no longer meant much to those involved. This game was getting a lot of buildup—too much, perhaps, for a game of middle school basketball.
The pregame buzz on the sidelines and around town was that Seneca had the perfect plan to shut Turner down. Jackson’s methodical, superior squad would physically dominate the opposition from start to finish. No one expected Turner to perform well against the stronger, better players from Seneca, let alone for Algonquin to come out victorious.
But Turner thrives on doubt—he has practically made a living proving people wrong.
“A.J. went bananas that game,” the elder Turner said. “That was one of the first times I really thought, man, this kid is gonna be something special.”
Turner was in eighth grade back then. A little over five years after his big breakout game, not much has changed—well, except for his hair.
An immediately-recognizable mop of curly brown locks, dyed a shade below blonde at the tips, sits unsteadily upon the Mt. Clemens, Mich. native’s cranium. Shaved meticulously at the sides, the style probably adds a few good inches to the freshman’s already-large 6-foot-7 frame. Over the years, Turner has experimented with just about every hairstyle out there—braids, high top, mohawk, the “South of France” look popularized by Nick “Swaggy P” Young—so this style was just next in line.
“I’m just going with the flow right now,” Turner said through a trademark smile. “I know my teammates seem to like it a lot.”
A cross somewhere between the hairstyles of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, Turner’s ’do juts out in every which way from the top of his head. It commands attention and respect. It demands to be noticed, demands to be observed, demands to be appreciated.
As the college basketball nation will soon find out, his on-court ability demands the same.
Boston College is a Power-Five school starving for overall athletic excellence. The Eagles have always been good in most sports, including basketball—though some might not believe it now—but BC has always struggled to reach the pinnacle in athletics. Turner has the potential to turn the trudging tides of rebuilding very quickly, making head coach Jim Christian’s multi-year construction project come to fruition a few years ahead of schedule.
A similar phenomenon happened at BC 15 years ago. By the year 2000, the Eagles were reeling, having rattled off three consecutive sub-.500 seasons following the departures of star guard Danya Abrams and head coach Jim O’Brien. New skipper Al Skinner was left with a depleted roster, since most of O’Brien’s recruits followed him to his new job at The Ohio State University.
BC needed a spark, and it eventually came from an unexpected source: a relatively unknown recruit named Troy Bell.
Bell went on to lead BC to two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, becoming one of five players to win Big East Conference Player of the Year multiple times. Bell’s teams launched BC from its place mired in mediocrity to a genuine competitor on the national stage. NCAA basketball pundits still question how local Midwest schools allowed the Minnesota native to get away.
It’s far too early to tell, but Turner is the type of prospect who could have the “Troy Bell Effect” for this program.
But while Andre was right about that eighth grade wunderkind becoming something special down the road, it didn’t happen overnight.
Like Bell, Turner was not getting heavily pursued by major collegiate programs. He had some difficulties on the court early in high school, and he was relegated to the JV team in his freshman season. Sensing that this struggling freshman was still chasing a Division-I dream, some coaches told Turner’s parents that he would be better off focusing on his high school diploma rather than a scholarship offer.
But Turner couldn’t give up the dream. He wouldn’t give up the dream.
“That’s what really motivated me,” Turner said. “From that point on, [playing Division-I] was my ultimate goal.”
Andre and A.J. stepped up the hours they spent in the gym, honing in on the weaknesses they identified in his game. During this period, the pair would head for the courts soon after A.J. came home from school, not returning until midnight on some occasions. The hard work paid nearly immediate dividends, as the offers started coming in less than a year later—first from the University of Dayton, then from a number of schools from the MAAC. It didn’t take much longer before BC expressed interest in Turner.
Even though BC’s recruitment of Turner started under former head coach Steve Donahue, Christian knew pretty quickly that Turner was a prospect he couldn’t let slip away.
“He’s a perfect fit for the way I play, and for BC,” Christian said. “You have to try to find guys who think they can thrive in your system, and obviously have the talent to play in this league. I think he has both.”
In addition to his talent, Turner is mature for his class, on paper and in person. The freshman turned 19 years old during the first week of school in September. He looks and acts like an upperclassman, way too comfortable for someone in his first semester at college. Turner does have a leg up on his peers when it came to attending school and living away from home, though. After a few years attending De La Salle High School in Warren, Mich., Turner transferred to the New Hampton School in New Hampshire—Hanlan’s alma mater.
Leaving the house at age 16 was a shock for both A.J. and his parents—Andre and his wife, Tracy, basically had to send their oldest child away to college a few years earlier than originally expected. The first few months were tough for all of the Turners, but especially Andre.
“It was horrible,” Andre said. “I remember that ride home—it was the longest, saddest ride ever. The days following, it was very tough because for me, every day, A.J. and I were always doing something together. Waking up and going in his room and him not being there, it was rough for all of us.”
Turner often got homesick during the month-long stretches that he couldn’t go back to the Detroit area during the basketball season, and it killed him to not have his parents at most of his games for the first time in his life.
The feeling of homesickness eventually subsided—partially due to Andre and Stacy’s frequent phone calls, and partially because Turner was making a name for himself on the court in New Hampshire. Everyone appreciated the strides that Turner was taking athletically, academically, and socially.
He got a taste of dormitory living a couple years before his BC classmates. He got comfortable with the East Coast, which Andre now calls his son’s “home away from home.” And, perhaps most importantly, Turner completed the transition from a fringe-Division-I prospect to a bonafide, four-star gem.
Despite his slim frame, Turner plays fast and physical, allowing him to excel at both guard positions, as well as small forward, what appears to be his natural spot in the lineup. Turner’s incredible athletic ability, coupled with his innate unselfishness and his elite shooting touch, make him a good fit for the three smaller positions on the floor.
While both A.J. and Christian struggled to come up with a pro comparison for his versatile style of play, Andre has always seen flashes of an NBA legend that he grew up watching—former Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen, maybe one of the most versatile players in NBA history.
“Scottie Pippen was a hybrid, and A.J. can do a lot of the same things that he did,” Andre said. “He could play the point or the two, and he could check the point or the two.”
Turner’s high school mixtapes show him throwing down emphatic dunks and draining shots from well behind the college 3-point line with ease. He finishes well in transition and his jump shot is pure, at its most effective when he shoots spot-up from the wing. When the defense steps out to guard his deadly jumper, Turner has no qualms with driving to the hoop and banging bodies with players much bigger than him. The freshman has surprisingly good handles and court vision for a taller player—combined with an explosive first step off the dribble, Turner is a dangerous triple-threat with the ball in his hands.
The face of BC’s future does not come without its imperfections and blemishes. Based on the Eagles’ preseason scrimmage against Bentley University, if there is one thing that Turner could improve heading into the season, it’s his defense. Too often, the freshman found himself getting beat off the dribble and left out of position—frankly, though, this assessment applied to all of the Eagles against Bentley.
His defensive struggles could very easily be chalked up to his first collegiate action, but as a weak defensive team to begin with, the Eagles will need Turner’s A-game to help lock down some of the ACC’s more talented scorers. More importantly, they’ll need Turner’s assistance in grabbing rebounds on each end of the floor, as he will most often be the second tallest player on the floor for BC.
Turner promised to deliver well-rounded contributions to a team looking to establish an identity in yet another retooling year. He prides himself on being the kind of guy who can offer a little bit of everything—exactly the type of player needed by a team lacking in just about every category. Off the court, Turner wanted to bring underclassman leadership to the biggest incoming class that BC has had since the just-graduated Class of 2015.
“I know the freshman guys need some leadership, and obviously they can get that from guys like Dennis [Clifford] and Eli [Carter],” Turner said. “But I think it’s easier coming from another freshman that’s going through the same struggles as they are.”
If Turner is struggling right now, though, he doesn’t seem to be showing it. Even before his freshman basketball season has started, Turner exudes a certain level of comfort without straying too far from the humility that got him to where he is today. He has a suave, smooth style about him, an inherent nature that makes his everyday tasks look easy. Turner has a great rapport with his teammates—notably roommate Jerome Robinson, the other jewel from Christian’s second recruiting class—and he feeds off their energy.
Turner’s not short on confidence, either. Part of that can be attributed to how welcoming the BC community has been to him, but it mostly comes from his ability to adapt seamlessly to new, challenging situations. Just under two months since he arrived on campus for the first time, Turner had already crowned himself best-dressed and best NBA 2K player on the team, edging out Carter and Robinson, among others, in each of those categories.
Oh, and don’t get Turner started on the hair.
“I think I have the best hair in the ACC, definitely,” he said.
Yet, when Turner says these things, they don’t come out as cocky or arrogant. These remarks won’t be misinterpreted by friends, teammates, or fans as selfish. His fun-loving personality forbids one from taking his comments out of context. He’s just a kid, after all—goofing around, cracking jokes, enjoying himself with his friends.
At the same time, Turner knows he means more than that to a lot of people at BC. Whether he realizes his on-court potential or not, Turner represents the Eagles’ and Christian’s one-way ticket from the conference cellar to national relevance. He might joke and kid about the fact that he’s the best, but the fact of the matter is that that’s exactly what BC needs him to be.
This Saturday, when BC takes on St. Francis Brooklyn in its season opener, it will be a notable day of firsts for many involved.
For the first time, A.J. Turner will run out of the tunnel from the bowels of Conte Forum into the bright lights on the main stage, the thumping drum of the pep band beating concurrently with his excited heart. For the first time, Turner will hear the familiar, booming voice of public address announcer Andy Jick bellow “A … J … Tuuuuuuuurner” after he connects on his first basket. For the first time, Turner will look up to the seats beyond the sidelines in Conte to see Andre, Tracy, and his younger sisters, Jazmyn and Jada, fresh off the flight from Michigan, leaning on the edge of their seats. For the first time, BC fans will get a peek at the future of the franchise in real game action.
And for the first time in a long time, with Turner on the floor, BC will take one big step forward in the process of building a winner.
Featured Image by: Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor