Josiah Turner (Getty Images)Had a UCLA, Kansas or Kentucky offered troubled but talented Josiah Turner a second chance, those programs would deserve the inevitable backlash it would have caused since they can land baggage-free elite prospects.
That it's SMU who has reportedly added the Arizona transfer, however, makes it far more difficult to criticize.
SMU hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1993, didn't finish above .500 in Conference USA in any of former coach Matt Doherty's six seasons and has produced only one NBA draft pick since Jon Koncak in 1985. Even under new coach Larry Brown and his highly compensated staff, it's going to be difficult for the Mustangs to attract enough high-caliber players to compete in the Big East unless they're willing to take risks others won't.
And make no mistake, Turner is as big a boom-or-bust gamble as any available transfer this spring.
Hailed as the next great point guard in the Arizona lineage after he chose the Wildcats over Kansas, UCLA and Louisville among others, Turner struggled on the court and off during a disappointing freshman season. The five-star recruit lost his starting job early in the season, sat out a Dec. 6 game for disciplinary reasons and later was suspended for the rest of the season on the eve of the Pac-12 tournament.
It appeared to be Turner's nadir when Sean Miller asked him to leave the program for good last month, but he somehow managed to make things much worse. Campus police arrested Turner on suspicion of extreme DUI last week after he was stopped for driving through a red light and recorded blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 and 0.16 through a breath test.
Few lesser-talented players would even receive a second chance at the Division I level after such a trouble-filled freshman year, so Turner should feel extremely fortunate SMU is willing to grant him one. What's more, the 6-foot-3 guard will be playing for a man who has shown the ability to get the most out of athletes who are difficult to coach.
How well-suited Brown is to college recruiting at age 71 remains to be seen, but he has coached guys like Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace and Stephon Marbury at the height of each of their careers. Helping Turner stay out of trouble and tap into the flashes of potential he showed during conference play last season should be easy compared to doing the same for guys like Iverson.
One of the lingering questions about Turner is exactly how good he is. He averaged a modest 6.8 points and 2.4 assists per game at Arizona, hardly dominant numbers for a kid who arrived with the hype he had.
Perhaps a year off and a change of scenery will help. Perhaps he'll squander this chance just like he did his first one. Either way, one thing is for sure: SMU fans who want the Mustangs to field a successful basketball program in the Big East cannot blame the school for taking this risk.
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