LEXINGTON, Ky. (10/15/13) – He may not be a native of Kentucky, but he certainly calls the Commonwealth his second home. Rightfully so, as University of Kentucky basketball legend Wayne Turner, 32, has most definitely made a name for himself amongst longtime members of the Big Blue Nation. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Turner came to UK to play for the Wildcats from 1995 to 1999, helping his team win two national titles in 1996 and 1998. He went on to have a successful career on and off the court, and to this day finds his passion on the hardwood. Turner is currently a program assistant for University of Louisville men's basketball under his former UK coach Rick Pitino. I spoke with Turner about his transition from being a force on the basketball court to a force on the sidelines.
DG – Tell me about your career since playing at the University of Kentucky.
WT – Well I stopped playing ball technically in 2010. I played overseas in New Zealand in 2008. You know, after that situation, I tore my patella tendon and I hadn't finished school so my next step was to go back and finish up. I did that in 2011 at Kentucky (he finished his degree in community communications and leadership development). Then I wanted to go back home and do some basketball coaching, coaching AAU and doing a little bit of personal private coaching. From there I wanted to seek out coaching on the college level. I got an opportunity to coach with John Calipari while I was finishing up my undergraduate degree as an undergrad assistant. It really attracted me to the profession. It was definitely something I looked forward to continuing whenever I got the opportunity to do it again. From there I was home doing the training, and reached out to Coach Pitino (now the head coach at the University of Louisville) who was my coach at Kentucky for my first two years, 95 to 97. It was an opportunity for me to come here and be a grad assistant and help out with the team while finishing up my master's degree. So, here I am.
DG – What will your master's degree be in?
WT – Right now I'm kind of deciding but I'm leaning toward sports management. I'm trying to figure out between sports management and criminal justice. A few friends ask me why criminal justice. It's something I've always kind of been interested in looking into. But I think it'll end up being sports management.
DG – You also played for the Boston Celtics and the Harlem Globetrotters. Between playing for UK, the Celtics and the Globetrotters, which experience do you cherish the most?
WT – Obviously playing with the University of Kentucky, that definitely is what I cherish the most because people know me from playing at the University of Kentucky, playing in the national championship games. So, I do cherish that the most. Obviously, the Boston Celtics, that was always a dream for me to go back and play for an NBA team from my hometown. The Harlem Globetrotters was something I could never imagine. I remember going to see them when I was a kid at the Boston Garden. I'm just grateful. Someone kind of brought to my attention that I've played for probably three of the most popular teams in the world, and that's the Boston Celtics, the Harlem Globetrotters, and the University of Kentucky. I said, “Wow, I've never looked at it like that.”
DG – What is the best trick shot you can do?
WT – I think the luckiest trick shot I'm going to make is if I hit it off my head and bank it off the backboard into the hoop. I left all those up to the showmen of the team.
DG – How did it feel when you were coaching at your alma mater and helping other Wildcats to be successful athletes?
WT – For me, playing there all four years, I got to experience every element of the university academically and also on the basketball side. You know, the fans are really into the basketball in Kentucky, especially at the University of Kentucky. Going back there, I was able to give them some advice on how to handle themselves when things are getting tough and also how to conduct themselves in public. I know for me I didn't really understand how much I was watched as a Kentucky basketball player until about the end of my sophomore year when I started getting a little bit more playing time and I started gaining some popularity. People started recognizing who I was. My junior year, it became a lot different to where there were some places I probably couldn't be because of the atmosphere. That was part of the reason why I wanted to join the staff, because I always wanted to give back to those players what I've learned as far as being a Kentucky basketball player.
DG – What are some of the highlights you'll never forget from your career as a University of Kentucky Wildcat?
WT – I think just having the opportunity to play in three final fours. I was really a little spoiled coming in. I got really lucky to be able to play with a guy like Tony Delk, someone like Antoine Walker, and Walter McCarty, even Jeff Shepherd. Those guys were people who had been there at least two or three years before I got in there. They were already on the verge of getting to a final four. So the luxury I had was just being able to play with those guys and coming in where Kentucky basketball was at its highest peak. That's definitely a highlight of my whole college career.
DG – But now, you're working for one of UK's biggest rivals. Did that factor in your decision to work for the Cardinals?
WT – I know it doesn't feel different at all. You know, the reason why I even attended the University of Kentucky was because of Pitino. I thought he was the best coach and mentor for me as a player. Coming here and being on the staff here, I feel no different from when I was at Kentucky. How he is as a coach here for me is the same thing, kind of like a mentor and coach for me. It's just an awesome opportunity for me to be once a player for him, but also to help coach on his staff. I'm just grateful and happy that I have this opportunity. You know I'm not from Kentucky so I think it's a different effect for me to where I'm now starting to understand how serious it is with the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville. But I don't get into that stuff. My job is to help out where I am and the situation I'm in at the moment.
DG – It's UK vs. Louisville on the court. Who do you root for?
WT – That's a no brainer. I'm on the Louisville staff, and that's who I'm going to be pulling for the whole game.
DG – So, what's next for Wayne Turner?
WT – I'm looking to further my career in coaching. I want to be a head coach someday. I think I'm in the perfect place and learning under the perfect person to accomplish that goal one day.
DG – Would you like to stay in Kentucky to coach or would you rather branch out to another state?
WT – I would love to stay in Kentucky to coach. Kentucky has always been a second home for me. That's part of the reason why I came back here. If that happens I'll be the happiest person in Kentucky.
DG – We're now on the verge of potentially another championship winning basketball team. Do you think this new team is going to live up to the hype?
WT – I actually got to see some of the players in the summer, and they're going to be really good. I remember when I was on staff there, the Harrison twins were being recruited really hard. Seeing them play, they're good players, and soon to be great players. They're definitely going to have a great team this year. I'm definitely looking forward to going down to Lexington and getting a chance to play against them.
That game will happen. Turner will revisit Rupp Arena, only wearing red, on Dec. 28. UK is set to take on Louisville that day at 4 p.m.
Photo provided by UK Athletics
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