The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

March 15, 2011

Turpin stays on course

DANVILLE — Growing up, Kiel Turpin heard stories about his father, Mel Turpin, and the success he found on the basketball court.

As a two-time first team All-SEC (Southeastern Conference) member, 1984 SEC scoring leader and sixth overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, Turpin looked up to his father and looked forward to following in his footsteps. Unfortunately, many of the stories came secondhand.

A distant relationship had always left Turpin longing for closer ties with his father, and learning the news of Mel’s passing last summer in early July left him wishing a better relationship could have existed. But it has since driven him even more to succeed.

“It definitely motivated me to keep moving forward,” Turpin said. “I think the one thing about growing up without him being in my life was just him not coming to my basketball games. But I want to follow in my father’s footsteps. Now that he’s gone, he’s watching me everyday. I think a good way to honor his tradition is to keep playing.”

The current Lincoln College sophomore made a commitment last summer to ensure his future success and to live up to his father’s collegiate legacy. A dedicated offseason workout helped Turpin put on about 30 pounds and improve his game. And despite a highly emotional summer, Turpin has remained focused on his goals.

“I stayed at Lincoln College over the summer and got a job so I could stay in the gym and workout and practice pretty much everyday,” he said. “I think it was around July, my father ended up committing suicide. That kind of shocked me because I wasn’t that close to him but I still wanted him to be involved in my life and make sure he knew who I was and see how successful I was being.

“That was when I was supposed to go to a junior college all-star game and I couldn’t make it to that. That was a slump for me for a couple weeks but coach talked me through it. I kind of got over it and I know he’s in a better place and now he’s looking at me, watching at all times.”

While Turpin knows his father will be watching over him during this year’s national tournament, he also realizes even more eyes will be keying in on him. And it’s his overnight success that has drawn the most attention.

Seeing only limited action in high school at Normal West, the idea of Turpin playing college basketball at any level seemed unimaginable. But Lincoln College coach Kirk Whiteman took a chance on the 6-11 forward, and after a coming out party of sorts in last year’s NJCAA Division II national championship game in which he earned MVP honors, Turpin is hoping to lead his team to back-to-back titles before departing for Tallahassee, Fla. to join coach Leonard Hamilton and the Florida State Seminoles.

With such a rapid rise to success usually comes distractions and roadblocks. But for Turpin, the distractions have been limited.

“Obviously all of the phone calls last spring was a huge eye-opener for somebody out of high school that didn’t get recruited at all, to having Big Ten coaches, ACC coaches and everybody in the world call on him and want to recruit him,” Whiteman said. “It was a pretty overwhelming experience for that time. Obviously his father’s relationship playing at Kentucky for coach Leonard Hamilton helped that situation and was able to make a decision for he and his family during the fall. So he really hasn’t had to deal with a lot of the recruiting process which has allowed him to concentrate on his grades and also playing for us. It’s been good.”

Turpin enters today’s 8:30 p.m. first round game against Lakeland Community College (Kirtland, Ohio) averaging a team-leading 15.9 points per game, eight rebounds and 3.3 blocks. But perhaps his most important contributions to the Lincoln Lynx this season in preparation for the next level have come in leadership, maturity and toughness.

Even through adversity, Whiteman has seen Turpin continue to fight with a strong-willed determination to find even more success.

“It was a really tough summer for him,” Whiteman said. “He got the phone call (about his father) the day he was supposed to fly out to go to Jerry Mullens’ camp. He wasn’t able to go out there and compete at a high level which I thought was really going to help him.

“At the end of the day, he’s taken everything in stride. He comes to practice everyday. He’s taken everything in stride and it’s just good to have him in our corner.”

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Check out the action at the NJCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament March 18-22 at DACC. Buy photos from the Commercial-News here: http://smu.gs/1iCWKnP

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