By Paul M. Banks
As I’ve pointed out before, National Player of the Year Evan Turner is like the Hillary Clinton of college basketball: quite a polarizing figure. Fans of teams eliminated by Turner’s Ohio State Buckeyes HATE him. And as the tournament rolls on, this bandwagon will indeed pick up more steam.
But on the other side, he’s also Mr. Popularity. He told me after the Big Ten Tournament Michigan buzzer beater, he had 150 text messages waiting for him when he got back to the locker room. And of his many close friends, a few are college hoops stars.
In the past I profiled (click where highlighted to read more about Turner’s friendship with each player) Illinois Demetri McCamey, and Penn State’s Talor Battle. This week we add Georgia Tech’s native of Oak Park, IL Iman Shumpert. And if you had Turner himself to this team, we’ll just need a fifth to round out the All-Turner BFF team.
“You always want to see guys from your city do well, but we also want to win and be mentioned as better than the other one,” Shumpert said Saturday when asked about his upcoming match-up against Turner and the Buckeyes.
The two players were 8th grade teammates with Turner at the two, and Shumpert running the point. It’s a rare experience to have two players with high NBA first round draft potential on the same team middle school team. In high school, they played against each other multiple times. After Evan Almighty and Ohio State eliminated Shumpert’s Tech team, Evan talked about what the thought of Shumpert’s skills today versus back then. “You know, he’s definitely gotten stronger, defense has gotten a lot better,” Turner stated. “He’s always been a leader. But pretty much the same. He’s definitely a competitor and he’s coming out to win,” he continued.
His Royal Smoothness Evan Turner also talked about how much he keeps in touch with Shumpert. “Actually, me and Iman talk a lot away from basketball. We talk a lot on AIM and Skype and stuff on Facebook. So when we’re at home we usually see each other for the most part. We’re definitely friends,” he said.
I was more intrigued though by a soundbite from the previous day. A reporter asked Shumpert, “have you ever played against a guard who rebounds as well as Turner does? “Demetri McCamey. Demetri was actually a five man for MacArthur when we were all in 8th grade, and Evan and I went up against him, so he naturally rebounds as well as anybody,” he responded. Looking at where these three guys are now, and where they come from, it’s a very strong example of just how much basketball talent we have in the Chicago area.