Just after 12 p.m. on Friday, the UC Irvine athletics department announced current Golden State Warriors assistant coach Russell Turner as the new head coach of the men’s basketball team.
Turner, who spent a combined ten years’ time coaching at Stanford and Wake Forest University before spending six years at his current job with the Warriors, accepted the head coaching position after interviewing with athletics director Mike Izzi, a colleague of Turner’s during his time at Stanford.
“Russell’s body of work makes him a superb choice for our program,” Izzi said. “He has worked in successful programs, gaining valuable knowledge from Hall-of-Fame caliber coaches, and has thrived in academic settings.”
These “Hall-of-Fame caliber coaches” mentioned include Don Nelson, who recently surpassed Lenny Wilkens to earn the title of the winningest coach in the NBA. Before that, he was brought into the NBA by current Cal Head Coach Mike Montgomery.
Not only has Turner worked with great coaches, but he has also helped coach a number of high-caliberplayers as well, including Tim Duncan and Josh Childress during their collegiate days. Numerous NBA players and coaching colleagues have also come out and publically endorsed Turner’s hiring at UCI.
“I know that Coach Turner will do an outstanding job. He has Pac-10 experience and is a wonderful person and family man. He will recruit quality kids and turn that program into a young and upcoming place to be. He was a great mentor and coach for me. I have the utmost confidence in him,” said Clippers guard Baron Davis, who was with Turner for three seasons on the Warriors.
Despite Turner’s impressive resume and notable track-record, he remains humble and focused on getting the Anteaters into the NCAA tournament, a feat they have failed to overcome in the program’s 45-year history. UCI will also be his first head coaching position at either the collegiate or professional level.
“I’m attracted to UC Irvine because of the combination of athletics and academics,” Turner said. “The focus that I’m going to bring to the table right now is producing winning basketball here, and re-connecting with the community. Whatever obstacles are in place right now, I’m going to find out what they are, and we’re going to overcome them.”
Turner, 39, stands 6-feet-7- inches and was a standout player himself at Division III Hampden-Sydney College (Turner’s coach as a player was Tony Shaver, who is now at the helm of William and Mary). Turner asserts that the best way to measure a coach’s success is to listen to what his players have to say about him and that any team reflects the personality of the head coach. Turner himself boasts an impressive academic resume of graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English. He also is a member of the illustrious Phi Beta Kappa.
“My players are going to know that my expectations are going to be high,” Turner said. “We’re going to compete on the floor, in the classroom, and in the community, and we’re going to build something good here … something that people really feel proud to be a part of.”
A strong believer in finishing what you start, Turner plans to complete his work with the Warriors before starting the journey with his new basketball family. In fact, Turner was able to make an appearance on campus Friday only because the Warriors were in Los Angeles playing the Clippers.
Currently, Turner has at least one open scholarship open for next year. The status on early-period commitments from former Head Coach Pat Douglass’ last recruiting class is yet to be determined. On the other hand, any potential future recruits may be enticed by a style of play inspired by the “run and gun” offense of the Warriors.
“The faster you play offensively the more that pushes your team to a higher level of conditioning, the more that challenges your ball-handling, and the more that can develop confidence and players can learn new things that they do well,” Turner said. “I want to do that, but whether we actually open the season as an up-tempo team will depend on if we can succeed at that. Obviously I want to build for the future at all times, but I’m not going to shortchange the guys in the program now … we’re going to commit to a style that best gives us a chance of winning.”
Turner was given a five-year contract, with an annual base salary of $205,000, providing him ample time for a program turnaround. He will do so preaching a mentality of being versatile and being able to change and adapt, as well as living out a life of character.
“What our overall level of success is going to be able to be right away, I don’t know that,” Turner said. “I’m not going to come in and promise things that I can’t deliver. But I’m going to give all those guys [I’m inheriting] a chance to prove they want to be here, that they want to be part of something that’s really terrific going forward. I think what I can guarantee is that our team will be competitive.”