K.T. Turner grew up watching Allen Iverson and Anfernee Hardaway wow college recruiters. He grew up watching his father coach with Dana Altman at Kansas State and if those experiences don’t set a path, then nothing will.
“I knew I wanted to coach when I was 10 years old,” Turner said. “Some guys want to be NBA players. I wanted to be a college coach.”
Turner, hired in June, is the newest addition to Wichita State’s men’s basketball coaching staff. Previously an assistant coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, he jumped at the chance to return to Kansas. Ken Turner, his father, coached at Kansas State under Altman from 1990-94. K.T. played (for Tim Jankovich) and coached (for Steve Eck) at Hutchinson Community College. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall doesn’t hire people he doesn’t know. Turner caught his attention when the Shockers recruited Hutchinson players. None came to WSU, but Marshall noticed the professional, personable way Turner dealt with himself and his coaches.
“I was looking for someone who was going to put down some roots,” Marshall said. “I really was looking for some stability, a young guy who would be excited to be here and not use it as a stepping stone at the first opportunity.”
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Marshall needed to fill a coaching spot for the third straight summer, after losing Earl Grant to Clemson, Chad Dollar to Georgia Tech and Dana Ford to Illinois State. Marshall describes him much as he did his predecessors. Turner, 34, has already coached at many places and developed the many recruiting contacts needed to keep the roster talented.
“His star is rising in this business,” Marshall said. “He’s diligent. He seems to have some great communciation with some prospects.”
Those are skill he learned from his father, who died in 1994 at 48, suffering a heart attack while jogging, after moving to Ohio State as an assistant to Randy Ayers. Ken Turner was well-regarded by his fellow coaches, some of whom stepped in to help mentor K.T. when he chose the profession. Ultimately, K.T. takes his direction from the memory of his father. He remembers listening in the family basement in Manhattan while his father called recruits. He remembers cheering when K-State’s Ski Jones scored a school-record 62 points in an NIT game at Bramlage Coliseum. Once a summer, father took son on a recruiting trip to one of the big summer tournaments.
His dad’s best advice — Don’t call people solely when you need something from them.
“He laid the foundation for me as a person,” Turner said. “I was only around him for 16 years, but I learned a lot from him. I was with him in the trenches.”
Larry Harrison, an assistant at West Virginia, can tell. He can tell every time he sees Turner grinding away at a game, locked in on the action and ignoring coaches who want to gossip and trade stories. He can tell when Turner calls him for advice. He can tell when Turner introduces himself to other coaches and picks their brains. Harrison met Ken Turner in 1989 and they grew to be friends. They had Cincinnati in common — Harrison was with Bob Huggins when they took over that program in 1989, replacing a coaching staff that included Ken Turner.
“He’s pretty much like his dad,” Harrison said. “In this business, it’s all about relationships. K.T. has those qualities. He likes working with young people.”
Turner calls Harrison when he has a question about the business. If he sees him at a tournament, he will ask Harrison’s opinion of a player.
“He’s detail-oriented,” Harrison said. “Sometimes when you go on the road, you see coaches doing more socializing than paying attention to what’s going on on the floor.”
Harrison is far from the only mentor in Turner’s past.
Turner, who will work with WSU’s guards, earned hird-team All-Jayhawk Conference Western Division honors as a guard for the 1998 Hutchinson team. He played two seasons at Hutchinson for Jankovich. He played one season at Texas-Arlington and one at Oklahoma City after leaving Hutchinson.
He spent 2011-12 as an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, where he worked with former WSU assistant Marty Gross. Before moving to Texas, Turner worked for two seasons at Hutchinson under Eck. He also coached with Eck for one season at Cowley College and two at Redlands (Okla.) Community College. Turner also coached at Northern Arizona and Panola (Texas) Community College.
“You better know how to recruit (working for Eck),” Turner said. “That’s what he wants you to do — get him some players.. This business is relationships. I’ve done a good job of building relationships across the country, with high school coaches and AAU coaches.”
Turner, who is marrried with two children, coached at enough places to to recognize a good job.
“This is a high-major program,” he said. “That’s how it’s ran. I always knew how important it was. Once you’re on the inside, it’s unbelievable.”