February 27, 2011

Coach impressed with Turner's character

What ever character concerns anybody might have of Arizona Class of 2011 signee Josiah Turner, his current coach does not share them.

"The No. 1 thing people in Arizona will see in Josiah (when he reports to campus in June) is that he is a great kid," Winston-Salem (N.C.) Quality Education Academy (QEA) coach Isaac Pitts Jr. told me Saturday morning.

"He is very soft-spoken and respectful. You know, actions speak louder than words, and he handles himself the right way."

The reports out of Sacramento High School when Turner became unavailable for games and practices earlier this season were not favorable. The Sacramento Bee reported that Sacramento High School coach Derek Swafford dismissed Turner from the team Jan. 15 because of the unexcused absences.

Those close to the situation know Turner needed the time away from the court to think about his development as a basketball player. The Dragons featured only one other Division I prospect, Santa Clara signee Robert Garrett. The competition level was something Turner and his mother, Doris Ward, thought about as Turner's playing opportunities decreased in late stages of games because of lopsided scores.

All the while, Turner's scoring average decreased from 27 points as a junior to 22 at the time of his dismissal.

"I really don't know what happened at Sacramento with him, to be honest with you," Pitts said. "Everybody has an opinion. All I care about is getting him his education and making sure he does what is asked of him in the classroom and on the court.

"I am not worried about what happened before he got here. I am also the assistant principal (at QEA). I know that since he's been here, Josiah's been a responsible student and player. He is in class. He is paying attention, and he's doing his work."

Ward and Turner understandably have remained private through the transition between leaving Sacramento to transferring to QEA on Jan. 24. Turner is not one to talk at great lengths about anything. He is reserved off the court, but extremely competitive on it, similar to how Mike Bibby was upon arriving to Arizona's program in 1996 from Phoenix Shadow Mountain.

Pitts said Ward and Turner initiated the communication with QEA while working the phone and surfing the Internet for practical institutions nationwide that would enhance Turner's development first as a student, and secondly, as a basketball player.

"Josiah had to apply to our school like any other student," Pitts added. "He went through the normal admissions process. It ultimately came down to our CEO, Mr. (Simon) Johnson, to make the approval for Josiah to come here."

Pitts also put the vote to QEA's team about whether to accept Turner, a 6-foot-3 point guard who is a 5-star Rivals.com prospect.

"I was the last guy on the totem pole getting Josiah in here," Pitts said. "Our guys accepted the idea of bringing Josiah into the program. We already had a great team with plenty of Division I talent, but they were excited about what Josiah could bring to our team."

Perhaps the most thrilled, believe it or not, was senior point guard Anthony Fields, who has verbally committed to Wake Forest. Fields realized his playing time would be affected, and that his stats would decrease a bit, but he was concerned more about winning a championship, according to Pitts.

As a stroke of genius, Pitts paired Fields and Turner as roommates. That helped Turner and Fields understand each other and it helped create a bond.

"Anthony is our team captain and he's been very receptive to Josiah from the beginning," Pitts said. "They spend a lot of time together as roommates. They talk about the game a lot. They encourage each other.

"Josiah did not move into the starting lineup until his fourth game with us, but he always remained positive. We have started Anthony and Josiah together to give us two ball handlers as opposed to only one. Having Josiah there is a big boost to our offensive flow."

Turner does not have a similar scoring role at QEA that he had at Sacramento. He is averaging about 12 points a game, but that does not concern him because he understands the Fighting Pharaohs are more balanced, Pitts said.

Aside from Fields, QEA's other major-college prospects are shooting guard Charles McKinney (DePaul commit) and wing player Sir'Dominic Pointer (St. John's). Lekan Ajayi, a 6-11 center, will likely sign with either Seton Hall or Tennessee, according to Pitts. His team also has a couple of underclassmen who will be signed by a major-college program after they develop further.

With this array of talent, Pitts scoffs at the perceived notion that Turner was upset about his decreasing scoring average at Sacramento.

"Our leading scorer is Pointer, and he's only at 15 points a game," Pitts said. "He could be averaging 30 points somewhere else. At a place like this, with all the talent we have, that's not going to happen, and Josiah knew that coming in.

"I don't know if he has ever been concerned about his scoring average. It's hard to believe he would be that way, knowing what kind of kid he is. I've had to literally make Josiah be more aggressive shooting the ball because he loves to pass the ball so much. He is definitely a pass-first, shoot-second point guard, which is unfortunately a rarity these days."

QEA, 23-4 overall, has won its seven games by an average of 25.4 points with Turner on the court, which, Pitts added, "shows how the other kids have accepted him." The Fighting Pharaohs next move on to the National Christian School Athletic Association (NCSAA) tournament that will be held in Erie, Pa., starting on March 10.

They will attempt to win their third consecutive NCSAA title, but will be without Fields, who fractured his left wrist in QEA's last regular-season game Feb. 19.

"I am a little concerned to be without Anthony, but we will be fine with Josiah handling the point," Pitts said. "I know Josiah wants Anthony to be out there, too. They've developed a close friendship. They are constantly talking.

"I think they've helped each other out. Josiah sees how Anthony is a leader. Anthony has seen how Josiah uses his good court vision. Josiah sees stuff before it develops. He can read things other guys can't see. That's a unique talent.

"He will bring a lot to Arizona with his character and how he gets his teammates involved and makes them better. Folks out there have a lot to look forward to."

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