When guard Michael Sturns, a 6-foot-5 senior new to Holy Family's program, made 5 of 9 three-pointers last month in an exhibition game against Drexel, Dragons coach Bruiser Flint said to Holy Family coach Alfred Johnson: "
did this kid come from?"
The short answer: Sturns transferred to Division II Holy Family from Division I North Texas, where he was the Sun Belt Conference's Sixth Man of the Year in 2006-07, part of a team that reached the NCAA tournament.
But the lifelong Texan, who lives in Fort Worth, is in Northeast Philadelphia because he didn't believe March Madness was his ultimate destination.
"I promised my mom I would make money from the game," Sturns said.
After last season, he had gone to the coach at North Texas, Sturns said, and talked about playing time and his role on the team. He wanted to be on the court more as a senior and handle the ball more. He was told that wasn't in the cards, Sturns said, so he decided to move on.
"I started entertaining ideas of playing professionally somewhere," he said, explaining that he didn't want to sit out a year, a prerequisite for transferring to another Division I program.
Grades weren't an issue - Sturns said his were good - and a North Texas administrator said it was solely Sturns' decision to leave. While he was thinking about trying to play overseas or in a domestic minor league, someone told him: "You might want to check out Division II."
Sturns had attended the 76ers' summer basketball camp for three years as a youngster and had stayed in touch with camp director Todd Landrey. Holy Family's Johnson said he got a phone call from Landrey after last season asking whether he was interested in a Division I transfer.
He couldn't give the name at first because the player hadn't gotten his release, Johnson said. But Landrey called back three weeks later with the name, and Johnson looked up Sturns' statistics online. His initial reaction: "Are you kidding me?"
The coach saw that Sturns had averaged 12.1 points in 18.5 minutes last season at North Texas.
"I know right away we're going to double those minutes," Johnson said, "so his scoring should double."
That's how it has worked out. Through 10 games, Sturns is averaging 24.6 points.
"A lot of guys don't know where the basket is," Johnson said. "Michael Sturns knows where the basket is."
Holy Family is 6-4. Earlier this month, both the University of the Sciences and Philadelphia University kept Sturns in check. He combined to shoot 9 of 36 against the local rivals and Holy Family lost twice. Although Sturns has great spring in his step and deep three-point range, his percentage from beyond the arc this season is only 25.5 percent. But he has hit a comfort zone. In his last three games, Sturns averaged 28.7 points, making 34 of 62 shots, and also had 12 assists and 12 steals.
Johnson said discussions with Sturns are "always centered around those things we could do to help him to improve his profile for the next level. He's a very skilled passer. . . . Last year, as sixth man, his minutes were predicated on what he was doing offensively. Now his minutes are predicated on what he's doing defensively and his decision-making."
Asked what he needs to work on, Sturns mentioned decision-making. But he called back after the interview to say that he didn't want to give anyone the wrong idea, that he thinks his decision-making is good right now - it can just get better.
"I'm never content. I just feel that I want it more than the next player," Sturns said. "That's what motivates me every day, that's what keeps me in the gym in the summer, at least eight hours every day."
He believes that the move is serving its purpose. When he first got to town, he went to the summer workouts held by John Hardnett and saw a range of NBA, overseas and college players. He didn't know most of them by name, but he did recognize Duke's Gerald Henderson right off the bat. But he wasn't asking a lot of
questions since he was the new guy.
"It was what I was waiting for," said Sturns, who thought he definitely held his own, but added: "I finally met my match. It was good for me."
In Division II, he said, the guards generally can play, but you don't see as many big men. Sturns praised the coaching at Holy Family. Johnson has three former Big Five stars on his staff. Jay Norman, the Big Five Hall of Famer who coached Temple's big men for years, is there with his own protege, former Temple star and longtime NBA player Tim Perry.
This season, Johnson, in his fifth year at Holy Family, brought in former Villanova point guard Jonathan Haynes, whom Johnson coached at Germantown Friends. Haynes had been playing overseas since his 'Nova career.
Sturns speaks of the Philly basketball scene with the zeal of a convert. "Philadelphia is basketball, period," he said.
He hasn't kept his eyes off the goal he articulated to his mother in Texas. He knows there is money to be made playing professionally overseas. But he's here in the hope that NBA scouts will make their way to Frankford Avenue.
"I'm trying to think like a pro, instead of just a college player," Sturns said. "I don't even look at too many college games. I'm looking at NBA games, watching how they move, how they think."