If Josiah Turner thought the low point of his basketball career was being asked to leave Arizona last spring amid drug and alcohol problems, the highly touted point guard quickly learned things could get tougher.
The Hungarian pro team he originally signed with last fall housed him in a filthy, bedbug-infested apartment so dilapidated his agent removed him from the team after only one month. The Canadian pro team he joined after leaving Hungary informed him in January his services were no longer required after he repeatedly clashed with the head coach. And even after a successful second-half of the season with another Canadian team, Turner still had to return to Arizona and serve two days in prison as a result of a DUI charge from the previous year.
"Everything I've been through has served a purpose because it has humbled me and forced me to mature," Turner recently told Yahoo! Sports. "I'm more focused and disciplined now. I'll never go down a bad path again."
The challenge now facing Turner is to prove that to skeptical scouts and general managers before next month's NBA draft. He'll have his first opportunity on Saturday in Los Angeles when representatives of about 10 NBA teams attend one of his workouts and visit with him afterward.
Though the 2013 draft is especially weak at point guard and the 6-foot-3 Turner has the size, court vision and explosiveness NBA teams covet at the position, raw ability alone may not be enough to get the Sacramento native drafted in even the second round.
He'll have to persuade executives from NBA teams he has matured enough that alcohol and marijuana are no longer issues and that he won't continue to butt heads with coaches the way he did in high school and college. It also wouldn't hurt if he showed improvement in his ability to sink an outside shot coming off a pick and roll, a liability both at Arizona and in Canada.
"He has an uphill battle for sure," an NBA scout familiar with Turner said. "Lot of baggage with him and not sure the talent level trumps it either. Maybe a second-round pick for someone but he will need to prove he has been humbled."
It's difficult for Turner to hear he has little chance of being selected in the first round because it wasn't very long ago that he was more highly regarded than the players projected to go ahead of him. Rivals.com rated Turner the No. 11 recruit in the class of 2011, well ahead of likely first-round picks Trey Burke (No. 142), Michael Carter-Williams (No. 29) or Shane Larkin (No. 72).
"It's frustrating that I've played against every single guard they say is better than me and I've done well," Turner said. "The basketball part, that's easy. That's not what I'm worried about. It's getting the teams to know that I've matured and grown into a grown man."
Turner readily admits that wasn't the case when he arrived at Arizona in fall 2011.
The problems continued for Turner even after Arizona coach Sean Miller asked him to leave the program. In April 2012, campus police arrested Turner on suspicion of extreme DUI when he drove through a red light and recorded blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 and 0.16, nearly twice the legal limit.
Rather than seeking a fresh start at another college, Turner passed on a scholarship offer from SMU and revealed he was turning pro last July. He believed he had a better chance of achieving his NBA dreams this June by proving himself against pro players overseas.
Albacomp of the Hungarian premier division offered Turner a forum to showcase himself, but in retrospect signing with the team wasn't the appropriate choice. Not only was the competition insufficient, Turner's paychecks often arrived late and the living conditions at the apartment the team chose for its foreign players was deplorable.
"It was like projects I was staying in – third-world projects," Turner said. "I've lived in some bad places, but that was horrible out there. I'd go to practice and show the coaches that I had bedbug bites on my back and all on my neck and everything. I wanted to stay there and show I could handle it, but my agent just decided to get me out of there."
Where Turner resurfaced a few weeks later was with the Halifax Rainmen of the National Basketball League of Canada, a fledgling two-year-old league not too far below the NBA Development League in quality. Turner got off to good start despite being the youngest player in the eight-team league, but everything deteriorated soon after Halifax fired coach Cliff Levingston five games into the season and replaced him with Robert Spon.
Even though Turner initially moved into the starting lineup after the coaching change, he was not comfortable under a coach who encouraged his team to walk the ball up court and ran very few pick and rolls in half-court sets. Turner clashed with Spon over the system and sets the team utilized, which led to a reduction in his playing time in late December and ultimately to his departure.
"Josiah just didn’t buy into my system," Spon told the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald after Turner's Jan. 3 release. “Josiah wanted to do what Josiah wanted to do. ... I’d call a set during a timeout I want run and he wouldn’t run it. … Josiah just didn’t warm up very well. Coming to games, I see him sitting around, I yell and he just gives me attitude."
Other Halifax players and coaches insist Spon's portrayal of Turner is inaccurate and unfair.
Small forward Hilary Haley, who lived with Turner in Halifax, described his ex-roommate as humble and hard-working and said "none of those things that were said about him are true." Assistant coach Colter Simmonds echoed those sentiments, adding that he agreed with Turner that the Rainmen did not utilize him properly and that he argued vehemently with ownership not to release Turner.
Simmonds, who served as a mentor to Turner in Halifax, suspects concerns about the point guard partying too much hastened his exit, an issue the assistant coach believes was overblown.
"I think he started to make strides when he was here, but there was a perception because of his past," Simmonds said. "He'd have a bad practice and others would think it was because he was out partying. Sometimes I had been with him the day before and could honestly vouch for him that wasn't the case."
Being cut by a team from an obscure league in Canada had to be humbling for a player of Turner's pedigree, but he insists he wasn't too discouraged. The biggest reason for that was five of the other seven teams in the league immediately offered him a contract for the rest of the season.
When the Summerside Storm signed Turner in January, assistant coach Mike Leslie admits he was wary about what it would be like to have Turner on the team because of his reputation. Leslie's concerns vanished soon afterward, however, because he discovered Turner was nothing like what he feared.
Turner accepted initially coming off the bench behind Summerside's veteran point guard. He shared the ball unselfishly when he got on the court. He stayed in the gym for hours after practice working on various aspects of his game. And he routinely would approach the coaches after games with questions about what he could do differently or why they chose to run a certain play in a certain situation.
"You always worry about a kid with his past, but we had no issues," Leslie said. "He's a young man who I think got off track in life because he's so talented and some things were probably ignored or accepted as part of that package. He came here to a very small community where there's nowhere to hide. If you yawn today, somebody knows about it in town tomorrow. From day one, he accepted that and there were no issues whatsoever. Absolutely none."
It took Turner until the eve of the playoffs to finally usurp 29-year-old Al Stewart as Summerside's starting point guard, but once he did he displayed his full arsenal in a way he hadn't since high school. He averaged 13.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals in eight playoff games, leading the Storm to the league finals with his ability to push tempo, create for others and finish at the rim.
Once he returned to the U.S. last month, entered a plea agreement in his DUI case from the previous spring and served two days in prison as part of his penalty, Turner was finally free to shift his focus to preparing for the NBA draft. He has worked the past few weeks in Los Angeles with Tyrell Jamerson, a former UNLV player who also trained Turner last summer as he was preparing to leave for Hungary.
Each day, Jamerson puts Turner through an array of drills designed to improve the point guard's ball handling, his passing and especially his shooting. Not only does Jamerson rave about Turner's first-round talent and gym rat work ethic, the trainer has also detected a change in attitude from Turner between last year and this year.
"He's more upbeat this year," Jamerson said. "It doesn't seem like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He smiles more and has more fun during drills. He opens up more. That's what makes him more fun to be around. Before he'd just come in and do his work. Now he comes up to everyone and talks to them, even when he doesn't know them."
That's a great sign for Turner because he'll need to be comfortable talking to NBA scouts and team executives the next few weeks in order to show them he's a more mature, driven person than his reputation would suggest.
Asked what he'll say to persuade scouts that he has changed, Turner has his answer ready.
"All the stuff that has happened, that's in the past and it won't happen again," he said. "I'm more mature, I'm more focused, I'm more disciplined and I'm ready to get out there and prove myself. I'm ready to show that I'm the old Josiah."
Make that the old Josiah on the court and a new Josiah off of it.
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