ATLANTA — Mark Turgeon is worn out from a tough year coaching the Maryland basketball team. A young and what Turgeon calls immature group of players finally started putting it together late in the season and made it to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden before losing to Iowa.
So Turgeon, who rescued Shocker basketball from more than a decade of futility in 2000 and won 128 games over seven seasons, won’t be at the Georgia Dome on Saturday for WSU’s national semifinal game against Louisville. But he’ll be watching with his family from his Chevy Chase, Md., home, looking for familiar faces and jumping up and down.
Even though he’s worn out.
“I’m exhausted,’’ Turgeon said. “My team was so hard to coach this year. It wasn’t a lot of fun until the last few weeks. My dad is here to visit until Saturday and I’m just so tired of traveling.’’
Shocker fans who are here no doubt would like to pat Turgeon on the back for his part in rebuilding Wichita State after it looked like the tools had been put away for good..
From 1989-90 through 1999-2000, the Shockers had two winning seasons – both one game over .500.
After a tough transitional year in 2000-01, Wichita State started to make steady progress. Turgeon recruited good players and molded them into good teams. WSU increased its win total in each of Turgeon’s six seasons and in 2005-06 reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 after winning its first Missouri Valley Conference championship since 1983.
After a fast start to the 2006-07 season, when the Shockers rose to No. 8 in the national rankings, things went bad. WSU finished 17-14, missed the postseason and Turgeon left to take the coaching job at Texas A&M. He just finished his second season at Maryland, which joins the Big Ten in the summer of 2014.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized coaching is more of a journey than a destination,’’ said the 48-year-old Turgeon. “The seven years I had in Wichita was fabulous, for me and my family. Two of our three kids were born in Wichita and we met so many great people. And we were able to take the program from 285 in the RPI to a Sweet 16. It was just a phenomenal time.’’
Turgeon and his family posed in a picture this week while wearing Shocker apparel. Turgeon’s wife, Ann, posted the photo on Facebook.
“I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as I should have when I was there at Wichita State,’’ Turgeon said. “It’s just because I was so driven to get it turned. But after I left there, I realized how special the place was and how lucky and privileged I was to coach there.’’
Turgeon said he keeps in touch with Jim Schaus, the former WSU athletic director who hired him, then hired Gregg Marshall when Turgeon left for Texas A&M. Schaus has been the AD at Ohio since 2008.
“Jim and I have texted back and forth during this NCAA Tournament,’’ Turgeon said. “We’re both really proud of what’s going on. Proud of Gregg, proud of the team, proud of the players. I can’t imagine what that town is like right now. I know what it was like when we got to the Sweet 16 and it was crazy then.’’
Turgeon’s video director at Maryland is former Shocker guard Matt Braeuer, who played three seasons for Turgeon at Wichita State. Turgeon said Braeuer wanted to be in Atlanta this weekend to watch the Shockers, but was having trouble finding a ticket that didn’t cost more than he could pay.
“I told him I’d pay because when Wichita State runs out on that floor before the game with Louisville, it’s going to be such a great feeling for him and all of the other players, a feeling of pride,’’ Turgeon said. “He just has to be there. I know all of my former players are excited and proud.’’
So is Turgeon. He’s a Shocker again, if only temporarily.