Season Preview: CHD sits down with UC Irvine coach Russell Turner

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with UC Irvine coach Russell Turner about having three seven footers on his roster.


You have three seven footers (including 7’6” Mamadu Ndiaye) and four other big men who are at least 6’8”. How do you hope to use all this size to your advantage? When I got the job here I was the tallest guy! We have depth at the interior positions and we have different types of big guys who excel in different scenarios. I love that they are competing the way they are.

Your non-conference schedule includes trips to Washington, Cal, Oregon, and ASU. Which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? There isn’t one specific game that stands out, but we have a very challenging schedule that includes a trip to play against a good Denver team. The objective of our non-conference schedule is to get better, but we had a big win last year by knocking off USC, so we relish those opportunities.

Alex Young was named Big West co-Freshman of the Year after setting a UCI freshman single-season record with 144 assists last year. How was he able to come in and contribute right from the start? He is just a really good player who is smart and poised and has good size for the PG position. We certainly would not have had as much success as a team had he not been able to adjust as a freshman.

You were 13-1 at home last year. How big of a home court advantage do you have at the Bren Events Center? Last year we had a great advantage. The only home loss we had was against LSU. People like to see a successful team so hopefully our crowds will continue to get bigger and better. If you can win at home then you have a chance to be a really good team.

You only have one senior on your roster this season. Do you think that your team is built to win now or are you are a year away from contending for a conference title? We have high expectations despite being so young, but a lot of our guys feel like veterans to me because they red-shirted or attended a year of prep school. Our freshman class is interesting because we have a pair of seven footers who do not seem that young due to their size. We are not super young but I think we will be even better the following year.

In the 2013 CIT, you beat High Point before losing to Oral Roberts. What did you team learn from last year’s postseason that can help you this time around? What are your expectations for the upcoming season? Our guys learned that it is fun to be a part of the postseason! Will Davis had 32 points and 14 rebounds against High Point, so it was nice to see him playing his best basketball of the season in March. Our goal is to win the Big West and get an NCAA tourney berth, while our secondary goal is to be playing our best ball at the end of the season. The expectation is for the team to come together and if we are unselfish and have good team character we will be a good team.

You played at Hampden-Sydney and graduated as the all-time leading scorer in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? I was just competing. I think that someone will probably break my record, but I am not worried about it. I had great coaches/teammates and was fortunate to find a program that fit me really well.

You were a first team Academic All-American, graduated Magna Cum Laude with a double major, and were a member of Phi Beta Kappa. How much importance do you place on academics? A lot. I took advantage of the academic opportunities I had and I want my current players to do the same. One of the fun things about being a coach is asking other guys to engage academically.

In the 1996 ACC tourney as an assistant for Dave Odom at Wake Forest, Tim Duncan had 27 points and 22 rebounds and 4 blocks in a one point win over Georgia Tech. Where does Duncan rank among the greatest players you have ever seen? He is universally acknowledged as the greatest PF ever, and I do not think you can really argue with that. He was a pleasure to coach, and he even taught me a lot.

You spent six years as an assistant coach at Golden State under Mike Montgomery and Don Nelson before being hired as head coach at UCI in 2010.  What is the biggest difference between the NBA and the NCAA? Why did you decide to go back to campus? I was also at Stanford with Mike. The NBA is a totally different industry from the NCAA; different rules, different dynamics, etc. I feel it is like the difference between coaching football and baseball. In college the coaches are somewhat the stars but in the NBA it is all about the players. There are different coach-player relationships at each level. The biggest challenge in switching between the two is the learning curve. I took the UCI job because I get to be a role model and help develop people’s character. I have two young kids myself so I was eager for them to experience a lifestyle outside the NBA. It is also a good fit for my wife, who is a doctor. My AD is a friend of mine from my Stanford days, which was also a big factor. I get to recruit student-athletes who love the game and value their educational possibilities.


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