What Matters to Coach Turner

In the final installment of the What Matters to Me and Why Series, members of the UC Irvine community crowded inside Humanities Gateway last Wednesday to sit down with Men’s Basketball Head Coach Russell Turner and hear about his beliefs and values.

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

A native from Roanoke, VA, Turner graduated magna cum laude from Hampden-Sydney College with a B.A. in English and Economics and was named a two-time All American. Before coming to Irvine, Turner was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA for six seasons. In his fourth season as Irvine’s head coach, Turner led the Anteaters to their first regular season league title in 12 years, earning Coach of the Year honors in the Big West and NABC 9.

Through the course of the luncheon, Turner combined both professional and personal ideologies in his talk to help those in attendance better understand his motivations, priorities and sense of purpose at UC Irvine.

Describing the pride he holds as a member of the Anteater community, Turner began by expressing how rewarding his position was as it allows him to have a positive impact on the campus. Through invigorating the basketball program, Turner hopes to not only build school spirit but to also draw attention to other notable endeavors and projects taking place at UC Irvine.

“With our team what we got is an important opportunity to represent all of you and through our platform hopefully to inspire you, to make you want to be better at what you get a chance to do all the time,” an emotional Turner said.

Regarding the composition of the basketball team itself, Turner believes that the players should serve as a strong and positive reflection of the overall student population. Turner achieves this in the demographic sense by mostly recruiting players from California, while ensuring that they will feel right at home as an Anteater.

“We’ve recruited here, players who want the academic ambiance, they want the academic challenge, they want the sense of community and I feel good about the way they fit. What I challenge them all the time to do is engage more fully, and that’s what I feel like we all should do within this community because we can benefit so much from one another,” Turner said.

According to Turner, an integral component to his success at UC Irvine thus far is the workers on staff. While hiring, Turner looks to surround himself with individuals who have the potential to become head coaches like himself and will constantly push him to do better as a coach. Turner doesn’t just consider staff members and players as a part of his team, but other members of the UC Irvine community as well, such as the physical trainers, cheerleaders and band.

“The fans, the donors, many of you, anybody who has come to our games somehow is connected to our team and that matters to me,” Turner said.

Inspired by Chancellor Michael V. Drake’s speech where he laid out the seven core principles of UC Irvine earlier in the year, Turner recognized the necessity of establishing core values of his own in order to put his players in a position to succeed.

“As a way of developing fundamentals, developing habits that can lead to success, aiming towards your core values is the answer.”

Unlike Chancellor Drake, Turner chose to focus on only three core values: Commitment, Integrity and Appreciation (CIA).

In terms of commitment, players are expected to continually devote themselves to the pursuit of excellence. Not only must players constantly strive to improve through basketball but in all other aspects of their lives as well. When players deal with adversity, Turner challenges his players to remind themselves of their commitments in order to persevere.

Integrity, the second core value, is the value that Turner personally considers to be most important. While attending Hampden-Sydney College, Coach Turner was required to fill an honors statement every week, where the penalty for dishonesty was expulsion. Turner holds that this expectation of honor had a large positive impact on his life, and holds that this ideal is crucial to building a solid foundation of trust in the team.

The final core value, appreciation, is just as highly regarded by the head coach. Turner stressed how fortunate players were to have the opportunity to gain an education at UC Irvine while competing and representing the school. To avoid being spoiled, it’s imperative that players actively show their gratitude through their behavior.

“The real world will not allow you to remain spoiled, and you’ll be penalized if you are,” Turner said.

Steering the discussion toward a more personal note, Turner fought back tears as he talked about his family and how much they have done for him. As a child, he was forced to recognize the imperfections of his parents when they divorced, but the experience proved to be a meaningful one in his growth. In spite of the divorce, both parents remained committed to raising him and supporting him in both his academic and athletics ventures.

“I’m grateful to both those people and I can’t really express that enough.”

As the father of two children himself, he commented on his experience as a parent.

“Nothing matters to me more than [my children]. The emotional rollercoaster of being parents can’t really be described for all the thrills and the falls,” Turner said.

To conclude the discussion, Turner explained that the meaningfulness of the basketball program can be better understood in the context of how it would affect the university, citing the attention that a NCAA berth would bring to UC Irvine.

“[The nation] will know about our student body and the quality of the education, the commitment of so many different others, all of you who are here and the things that you do. That’s what we have an opportunity to impact. That’s why we’re doing it, me and my staff. We’re going to for it, that’s what I’ll tell you.”