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Turner is a shoe-in for improvement with Sixers

Evan Turner wants his Li-Ning signature shoe to be "clean-cut, refined, to reflect some of me." "Not flashy," the 76ers first-round draft choice said during media day yesterday at the Wells Fargo Center. "No flaps or lots of colors. Classy."

Evan Turner wants his Li-Ning signature shoe to be "clean-cut, refined, to reflect some of me."

"Not flashy," the 76ers first-round draft choice said during media day yesterday at the Wells Fargo Center. "No flaps or lots of colors. Classy."

The signature shoe is a year away, so Turner has time to create his own signature, to show there's much more to him than what he showed in the Orlando Summer League, that there is significant substance to the 6-7 guard from Ohio State who led the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding as a junior and finished second in assists and steals.

That propelled him to the No. 2 spot in the NBA's June draft, swept up by the Sixers after Washington took Kentucky's John Wall. And that helped agent David Falk broker a deal with Li-Ning, one of China's top athletic brands. That was significant, because the Chinese shoe brands hadn't been willing to compete with Nike, adidas or Reebok for young players, choosing instead to go with veterans. Li-Ning had attracted Shaquille O'Neal; other brands reached for Jason Kidd, Shane Battier, Kevin Garnett and Steve Francis.

"We talked to a number of companies, but Evan felt Li-Ning hit a home run in their presentation," said Falk, who termed the deal "unprecedented," but declined to reveal its length.

Falk generated Michael Jordan's association with Nike, then made headlines when he negotiated a lifetime contract for Allen Iverson with Reebok.

"It has to be the best fit for the client," Falk said. "[Turner] will have his own line of products. Very few players sell shoes, but they can promote a brand. If this is a success, it can open the door for young players to look more on a global scale."

Turner and Falk recently spent a whirlwind 2 1/2 days in China, with Turner battling to adjust to the 12-hour time difference.

"They were, like, 20-hour days, tiring, but fun," Turner said. "It was unreal how much interest there was over there. It's flattering that the company showed that much interest in me, that they showed that kind of confidence in me."

He taped a commercial last week, smiling at the memory.

"Got there at 9 in the morning the first day, went till 9 at night," he said. "Second day was 9 to 4. A lot of hurry up and wait."

But the degree of success regarding the perks of pro basketball depends almost entirely on the success of the player. Turner seemed flat in Orlando, having not played competitively since the end of the college season, then waiting to get drafted and sign a contract. He began to put his game back together in Columbus, Ohio, where - tutored for a while by Sixers assistant Brian James - he acknowledged "being more comfortable, in a familiar environment."

In a perfect world, Turner will team with second-year point guard Jrue Holiday in a young, eager backcourt, backed by still-young Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks. Turner is adjusting to the pace of the pro game, to the explosive ability of players, to playing off the ball, to cutting hard off screens.

"When you're playing pickup and you don't have the ball, you're just standing there watching someone else score," he said, laughing. "But if you make one error on offense, you've turned it over and the defense is scoring in a split second. If you slack off getting back, everybody's coming right at you. You have to really react, be on your toes. Once we have a set system, it'll be different. I learn pretty well."

Turner knows new coach Doug Collins made an All-Star career of playing off the ball.

"Sometimes [Turner] is in a hurry," Collins said last week. "I said, 'Slow down when you're off the ball. Let [the opponents] make a mistake. Go away from pressure. Don't fight pressure.' I figured it out when I was playing with [former Sixers star] Maurice Cheeks; I'd throw the ball to him, let him do all the work and I'd get the shots. It was easy."

The Sixers' coaches and front-office staff didn't gnash their teeth watching the games in Orlando, wondering whether they might have made a mistake.

"I've seen strides from Orlando until now in the pickup games," general manager Ed Stefanski said. "I think he's figuring it out. I really believe he tried to do too much in Orlando. Now, he's playing within the [five-man concept]. He's a facilitator; he makes plays for people and for himself.

"I can go through a list of people that had phenomenal summers and didn't make it in the NBA. I could go back and make another list of kids who had horrible summers and became very good players. One guy who struggled was Holiday two summers ago in Orlando."

The clear hope, then, is that Li-Ning and the Sixers have put the right shoes on the right guy. *