Terps small bump on Turner road Illinois guard has lost family to violence, illness

March 14, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- His is the story of a young life flooded by family tragedies and the fierce will to drive onward and upward on the basketball court.

At age 21, Illinois guard Kevin Turner has dealt with more obstacles than most people can contemplate and become a full-fledged star.

When his team takes on Maryland today in the West Regional at Arco Arena, the phlegmatic Turner again will be playing for his brother Kenneth, who was shot and killed in a gang cross-fire in Chicago while on his way to the store two years ago this week.

"I use him as the reason that keeps pushing me," said Turner. "I always feel that he's inside me. He's with me in spirit; he's in my heart. And, you know, he's what keeps me going."

That was the most recent of the tragic incidents that have deprived him of all of his immediate family and filled his life with almost incomprehensible adversity.

He never knew his father Clarence, who was stabbed to death in a robbery when Kevin was 8 months old.

When he was 13, he lost his grandmother -- who virtually raised him -- to a stroke. Then his mother Yvette succumbed to cancer at age 38 when Kevin was a struggling young player at Illinois.

Earlier this season, Turner told the Chicago Tribune, "I really feel the worst part is past. It's hard when your entire immediate family is gone. Why me? I've asked myself that for a long time.

"But I feel lucky to have my aunts and my cousins. It's a close family. When I've had tough times, they've always pulled me through."

So has basketball. It has been the release for the All-Big Ten pick who personifies the work ethic that carried the Illini to a 64-51 victory over South Alabama in the first round.

He has taken his emotions and thrown them into the game, blossoming this season into the go-to player, whose appearances in California as a senior included a 32-point explosion at UCLA.

In 32 games, he has scored in double figures 29 times. He has almost tripled his career average to 17.9 points and, as a result, has drawn a lot of defensive attention.

"He's a complete player, a guy who's been there, knows where the ball should go, in addition to being a very good scorer," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Illinois never gets shook. They looked like they were in control all the way, especially Turner."

During last year's second-round loss to Tennessee-Chattanooga, Turner had only four points. The shutdown was a major factor in the result.

Coach Lon Kruger said he is not surprised by Turner's offensive outbreak, but is "most pleased with Kevin's understanding of the need to work away from the ball. He's really worked hard to free himself up."

Work. It keeps coming back to that word. Always working to get rid of the demons that have haunted his life. Always working to get better and freer.

"What Kevin has had to deal with is something not I or most people can probably appreciate or understand," said Kruger.

Aunt Gertrude Garrett is reveling in his success.

"The last few months have been so great for him," she said. "I think what Kevin is showing us now is 'This is my life.' He's not turning back."

Pub Date: 3/14/98

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