Evan Turner and David Lighty check in before the Battle for Ohio Celebrity game.
by Brendan Bowers / @BowersCLE
Evan Turner averaged 26 minutes per game this past regular season for the Philadelphia 76ers. In the Playoffs, Coach Doug Collins increased that number to 35. Turner rewarded his coach’s decision by showing up big defensively, along with averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds during a 13-game Playoff run that brought their team within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals.
SLAMonline caught up with the second-year pro and former Ohio State Buckeye earlier this week, prior to the Battle for Ohio Celebrity Game that he’ll be playing in this Saturday, and talked about the opportunity to build on last year’s success.
“That experience gives us more confidence as a team going into the Playoffs next year, to know that we do have the opportunity to advance to the next round,” Turner said. “We understand what it takes to get there. We understand the trials and tribulations that you go through, and it makes that light at the end of the tunnel even brighter for us. We were one game from going to the Conference Finals, and then anything can happen from there. So making it to the NBA Finals is more realistic to us now.”
Competing in Playoff basketball against guys like Rip Hamilton, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce is something Turner says he personally can build on heading into his third NBA season.
“Rip was great to go up against for me personally because he’s a great competitor,” Turner said. “Seeing how he works off ball screens and competes at that level was a good experience for me. I also learned a lot going up against Ray and Paul, too. Watching their whole mentality on how they attack, and just challenging myself against those guys was great.”
Collins told Turner his decision to up his minutes in the Playoffs was about those matchups, and Turner did his part to capitalize on the opportunity: “Coach just said that we had to use the matchups to our advantage. Once the second half of Game 1 started, he talked to me about being ready. I feel like I’m always ready and whenever somebody puts that trust in me, that’s the most important thing they can give me, and I tried to make the most of that trust.”
Turner’s next challenge will be securing a win, and more importantly bragging rights, for Team Columbus. The Battle for Ohio Celebrity Game will pit a number of former Ohio State and Columbus area stars against some of the best ballers from Cleveland on Saturday at St. John’s Arena.
“I’m excited to be a part of it,” Turner said about participating in the event. “It’s going to be great for the city of Columbus, and I think it’s something cool. As a former Ohio State player, I think it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the tradition of Ohio State, as well as the tradition of a basketball-rich Ohio. I have a house in Columbus, so I go back at least once a month, for about a week or so at a time. I love being in Columbus, and if I’m not in my hometown of Chicago, or in Philly, I’m down in Columbus.”
Turner will square off against former Ohio State teammate David Lighty on Saturday, who will be putting on for his hometown Team Cleveland. Evan acknowledged there has been some back and forth between the two sides recently heading into the game.
“I’m just looking forward to having fun,” Turner said. “Pretty sure there’s always been talk about who’s better, Columbus or Cleveland, and that’s gonna be a fun thing to find out. I just want to win in general, and then to also make Lighty upset like I usually do.”
After spending this past season playing professionally overseas, Lighty’s return for the game in Ohio really is a true homecoming of sorts. A homecoming the former Ohio State standout is excited to make.
“I was in Italy last season, in two places actually, Cantu and Carmona,” Lighty said. “They were both Northern Italy, 30 minutes from Milan. The first couple months were a little rough for me, getting used to the language and the style of play overseas, but then I started getting the hang of it. I was really able to show what I could do on the court after that.”
As a player, Lighty used his first season as a professional to improve all areas of his game, with a focus on the offensive end.
“I was working on getting better overall, and then on my offensive game particularly,” Lighty said of his time in Italy last season. “Being more aggressive, being more assertive, which is also what my team wanted me do. Penetrate a lot, get a lot of free throws, create opportunities for my teammates to make shots. Overseas there’s no three seconds, so the paint’s always clogged up. I learned more about making the smart play with people in front of you, the right decision. That’s something they always say Europeans are real good at and I was really able to see and understand why they’re so good at it.”
Since returning to the States, Lighty has been generating substantial interest around the NBA. He’s worked out for a number of teams, and will be headed to Vegas Summer League following the game this weekend.
“I’ve been working out for five teams,” Lighty said. “Coming up with Summer League Vegas, I’m going to be with Phoenix. I was going to play with Atlanta, but after their recent trade they brought in three wing players, or three guards. So my agent and I decided to play with Phoenix. I had a couple Cavs workouts, Pacers, Spurs, Hawks, and then Phoenix as well. Those teams are interested in me, and I’m just going to keep working, proving myself everyday, and hopefully get signed.”
As far as any advice he’s received from friends like Turner and other guys throughout the League heading into those recent workouts, Lighty says they’ve just told him to do what he’s always done.
“What guys have told me is to just not to worry about making mistakes, and just do everything the coach asks of you. When you try to make a team it’s about being a role player. Every team already has their set person who’s going to score, or who’s going to create, things like that. For me it’s about being a team player, being humble, and being someone who they can see representing their organization. I feel that I can be one of those guys in the NBA.”
First thing’s first, though, is representing for Cleveland on Saturday in Columbus.
“Being able to represent Cleveland down in Columbus, where I played for the last four years, that’s something special for me. I love the city I grew up in, and then Columbus is also a big reason for where I am today. So it’s kinda like a home-and-home situation for me, with both places. Just being able to be around great people, and the Buckeye fans again, it’s going to be real special for me.”
Winning bragging rights over Turner and the Columbus side would be cool too.
“We do have some talking going on,” Lighty said with a laugh. “We’ve been on Twitter a little bit. Me and Evan, me and [Jon] Diebler, going back and forth, so we’re going to see what happens. But we’re just going to get Team 216, Team Cleveland, the victory and that’s all I want.”
Team Cleveland will be coached by one of the greatest players in Cleveland basketball history, CBS College Basketball Analyst Clark Kellogg. Kellogg starred at Lighty’s alma-mater, St. Joe’s, before moving on to Ohio State and then the Indiana Pacers. Catching up with Kellogg is also something that Lighty and everybody else is looking forward to.
“Going back to my high school years, he went to a couple of our games at St. Joe’s and talked to us in the locker room,” Lighty went on to say about Kellogg. “Then with me going down to Ohio State we kinda followed the same path. With him living down there now, I’ve been in contact with him ever since I’ve been to Ohio State. We’ve talked a lot, he’s done a couple of our games, and we have a text message type of friendship. It’s special, with him growing up in Cleveland, going to the same high school as me, then going to Ohio State, and it’s great that he’s going to be a part of the game.”
Once that game’s over though, and the NBA work resumes, the second overall pick from the 2010 NBA Draft does believe he’ll be playing against David Lighty again somewhere soon.
“He’s a great locker room guy,” Turner said of Lighty. “He’s a great leader, he works really hard, and he does what he’s asked. But the most important thing is he’s a competitor. He’s everything you look for in a player. Once coaches understand that, they’re going to understand his value. He’s a great guy, and he is an NBA player.”
Team Columbus will tip-off against the visiting Team Cleveland at noon on Saturday. Another NBA player headlining the game will be Cavalier Tristan Thompson, repping for the Cleveland side. Team Cleveland also includes Dallas Lauderdale, Tony Stockman, Damon Stringer, Sam Clancy, Julius Juby Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Dru Joyce, Chet Mason, and Keith McLeod. Alongside Turner, Team Columbus will also include Brian Brown, Terence Dials, Jon Diebler, Ivan Harris, George Reese, JJ Sullinger, Scoonie Penn, Antonio Daniels and Samaki Walker.
For more information on the Battle for Ohio Game go to ohiohomecoming.com.