In The Lab
SLAM spends some quality time with rookie Evan Turner.
“Has the Eagle landed?” asks a Gatorade employee into his cell phone. After being told that the “Eagle” was a few minutes away from the Midtown Manhattan gym where a Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s Performance Lab was temporarily set up, the G man ends the call and continues to ready a reporter for the “Eagle’s” arrival.
I was that reporter, and if I wasn’t laughing aloud, I definitely was laughing to myself. Knowingly or unknowingly, Gatorade was using a fitting code name—”Eagle”— for Evan Turner.
Huh? Eagle? Fitting? Why?
Rewind a few months.
With pundits calling for the Philadelphia 76ers to draft Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins in this past June’s Draft, first-year coach Doug Collins opted to use the No. 2 pick on Illinois native Evan Turner.
Don’t know about you, but that paragraph rings familiar.
Rewind a few years—11, to be exact.
With pundits calling for the Philadelphia Eagles to draft Ricky Williams in the 1999 NFL Draft, first-year coach Andy Reid opted to use the No. 2 pick on Illinois native Donovan McNabb.
Parallel circumstance makes for a fitting code name. Parallel circumstance makes for parallel careers? We can revisit that in a decade.
Back to August 2010. Back to the temporary lab in Manhattan.
Running 15 minutes late—Amtrak’s fault, not his—Evan Turner finally joins one other reporter, Gatorade’s team of people, myself and his agent David Falk.
Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, while partaking in Athletic Performance Testing—comprised of a few next generation albeit embarrassing tasks—I got to know Evan Turner a little bit better.
Nearly two months ago, during an open media session the day prior to the 2010 Draft, I was one of a dozen or so reporters who crowded around Turner’s desk. On that day, answering questions ranging from what he hopes to accomplish in the NBA to what type of music he prefers, the college star stood out from the other prospects in the room. Turner didn’t come off sounding like a player; he sounded like a nerd (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Today, while kicking it with Falk and myself in the lab, Evan still has a nerdy air about him, but I realize: it’s less Steve Urkel and more Eric “E” Murphy.
There are a few reasons to draw that comparison, but there’s one that trumps the others. Like Entourage’s E, the 6ers E is not comfortable being a follower or merely being background noise in a crew; he wants to be his own man, to blaze his own path. Couple that trailblazing mindset with a dash of quirkiness, a spoonful of honesty and a willingness to try new things, and you have Evan Turner.
A few examples of the NBA’s E possessing the above qualities: Before he even had a chance to catch his breath and get comfortable, someone from Gatorade broke into our conversation and asked him to quickly provide a urine sample. With a laugh and a good-natured smile, Ev took the little cup and left the room to go to work.
Not 15 minutes later, in the middle of a gym with 10 people he’s never seen in his life, Turner was asked to strip down to his boxers and weigh-in. With yet another smile and chortle, Evan stripped. It wasn’t a surprise, then, when he agreed to wear a shower hat, too.
Another example. During breaks in the action, the rookie and I chatted. When talking about what type of shoe he’ll be wearing next year (as of this morning, Turner’s still not repping a shoe) he told me: “They could have the best marketing. It could be the best shoe. But if I don’t play well, it won’t sell. It’s that simple.”
The current 76ers are a lot like that hypothetical shoe: they can run the best ad campaigns and offer the cheapest tickets, but if they’re not playing well, the city of Philadelphia won’t come to their games and support them.
The 76ers need something to spark interest, something to bring the fans back, and Evan Turner may very well be the accelerator that helps light a new fire in South Philly.
It may take a while to bring the crowd back, but the Eagle has most definitely landed.
SLAM: What you been up to since Summer League?
Evan Turner: I’ve been working out. I’ve been in Philly working out. Just working on my game, trying to get in better shape.
SLAM: Yeah, after seeing you play in Summer League, did Coach Collins or anyone else have any advice for what they want you to work on?
EV: They just said get in better shape, and keep getting better. Just try to work on coming off screens and stuff like that, and being open to a new system.
SLAM: You settle down in Philly yet? You know the area a little bit?
EV: I’ve been around the city just a tad, so I’m starting to get it know it a little bit more. I usually only go to the places I need to go to.
SLAM: You said you were working out with some local guys?
EV: Yeah, I worked out with a few foreign and college players from the area, like [from] St. Joe’s and stuff. Played on a couple open gyms with Jameer [Nelson], Matt Carrol, a few overseas players.
SLAM: You been staying in touch with Jrue Holiday and other teammates that you met down in Summer League?
EV: Yeah, we talk. I have BBM, and Twitter and stuff like that, so we all definitely talk. I met a few other players like Willie Green. It’s cool.
SLAM: Any advice and stuff, even though you’re older than Jrue?
EV: Well Jrue, he just says work hard and I’ve been working a lot with Coach McKie, and he just said listen to him. He says Coach McKie’s helped him a lot as well.
SLAM: Did he tell you what to expect from the season at all?
EV: He just said it’s gonna be tough; it’s a man’s game. But you just have to keep playing and keep getting better.
SLAM: You talk to any of the Ohio State players that are in the NBA to hear what they have to say?
EV: Yeah, they’re just telling me about hazing, and what to do and what not to do. Or how to avoid certain things. (Laughs.)
SLAM: You been hit at all yet with anything? Or not even?
EV: Nah, not yet. I know my job is to get donuts and stuff, so I gotta get prepared for that.
SLAM: I hear that. You talk to Coach Matta at all?
EV: I haven’t talked to Coach Matta in about a week or two, but they’re doing well. They just got a few more recruits. He’s always on the on the up-and-up. He’s a positive guy, so…
SLAM: Have you spoken with Coach Collins at all? Do you know what he expects of you?
EV: He just expects me to get better, and also get stronger. He says I’m going to be terrific player and even a great player. He just says I have to keep growing and get more poise, and get prepared to start going against tough competition.
SLAM: Yeah. They have ‘Dre and they have Thad. What do you do differently? What do you offer that’s different?
EV: I think they’re definitely competitors. I think I just add to our combination of versatility and playmaking. I think I make plays, and take over games, and stuff like that.
SLAM: No doubt. You get a chance to look at the schedule yet? Miami’s first up.
EV: Yeah, everyone keeps talking about that. That’s on my birthday. So that’ll be some birthday present, my first NBA game to go up against two of the best players in the League. So it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be a fun time, great competition and you have the opportunity to start the season off right.
SLAM: You looking forward to playing against any rookies, or any guys you got friendly competition with?
EV: (Long Pause.) I never really thought about that. I’ve just been thinking about playing versus good teams and stuff.
SLAM: Last question, man. In Philly, the last couple of years have been pretty weak. The crowd’s are thin, the fans are pretty apathetic. How can you help change that?
EV: I’m on duty, you know? I can just add a little to it, along with what’s going on. Definitely just coming out, playing hard in pre-season, and playing hard every day in practice, and hopefully giving the fans something they like to see. You know, all it takes is one win, one game, one moment to get that buzz going and get that excitement back. I think we have the right nucleus, with a young player like Jrue, and Thad, and Iguodala, and bringing in a coach like Coach Collins. I think everything will be fine.