AS HE ENTERED the quaint meeting room in downtown New York with close to 50 other NBA players 2 weeks ago, Evan Turner looked as though his piggy bank had been taken by an older sibling and he didn't know how to go about getting it back.
That look seemingly has been on Turner's face since the day the Sixers drafted him with the second overall pick in June 2010. First, his natural position of a guard who had the ball in his hands most of his time on the court was taken away, then his second season in the league appeared in peril when the players union decided in New York that day to take the owners to court over a new collective bargaining agreement.
Early Saturday morning, of course, a tentative agreement was reached and it appears that Turner will be able to continue what he and 76ers fans hope is a promising career.
"I am so ready to get started playing basketball again," Turner said recently. "This is what we do. As players, when it becomes this time of the year, we're ready to play basketball. This [lockout] is one of the hardest things I've had to go through. But now I'm ready to go."
Turner became the consensus national player of the year after his junior season at Ohio State, when he averaged 20.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and six assists in leading the Buckeyes to a 29-win season. When the Sixers surprisingly were able to move up to the second pick, it was a consensus no-brainer that the pick would be Turner after Washington chose Kentucky's John Wall with the top pick.
The struggles that Turner would encounter were not foreseen by him or the organization.
"Last year, man, it was tough, my head was spinning, that's for sure," said Turner, who ranked 12th in scoring among rookies (7.2 points per game) who played at least 20 games. "I understood why I was struggling on the court, sort of. I was a player who was so used to having the ball in my hands the majority of the time that it was difficult to make the adjustment to playing without the ball, trying to learn how to play without the basketball. When you add in all the normal struggles that a rookie has - travel, length of schedule, and all that stuff - it was a very difficult year."
For a first-year player, particularly one held in such high regard as Turner, patience isn't a virtue, it's an afterthought. The Sixers brass, particularly coach Doug Collins, relentlessly professed its faith that Turner would adjust and become a productive NBA starting guard. After all, he also struggled during his first year at Ohio State.
"I wouldn't say I was doubting myself last season. I always have confidence in myself. I was more just frustrated in trying to figure out a new position," said Turner, who scored 17 points in the Sixers' only playoff win against Miami. "Learning a new spot on the court is hard for anybody at any level. But when you're trying to do it in the NBA, against the best players in the world, it can be a whirlwind."
Turner, though, is a quick study. He showed his maturity during the lockout by being present for many of the lockout meetings.
"This is my job now," he said. "I was curious as to what all the issues were, and I wanted to educate myself. Why wouldn't I be there? I thought it was the right thing to do."
It still isn't quite clear as to where Turner will end up playing the next time the Sixers take the court. Will he be the "2" guard paired in the backcourt with point guard Jrue Holiday, or will he slide down to the small-forward spot, currently held by Andre Iguodala? Whatever position Collins decides is most suitable for Turner, one glaring area of his game will need improvement - outside shooting.
Turner was able to shoot 51.9 percent from the floor his final season in college because of his ability to get to the basket and consistently make midrange jumpers that he mostly created for himself. Last season, though, most of his attempts were the spot-up kind, an unfamiliar part of the game, and it showed in his low field-goal percentage (42.5, 29th among rookies who played at least 20 games).
Enter Herb Magee. Though Magee is known more for being the winningest NCAA men's coach of all time and his recent induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, his favorite topic is the art of shooting the basketball. The Philadelphia University coach still brags that he is the best shooter in the gym, whether he's watching a Sixers game at the Wells Fargo Center or any college game in the area, and you know he could back it up. So it was a natural fit. Turner said the time they spent together in the gym this offseason paid dividends.
"I've done this in the past with some guys where they did it because their agent told them to do it," Magee said when he was working with Turner. "We're doing this because I know the young man wants to do it."
Said Turner: "I know I had a hitch in my shot, and who better to help than coach Magee? I feel so much more comfortable now. But it all wasn't just about my shot. It was great just talking basketball with the guy. I learned a lot from him and hopefully I'll learn more from him in the future."
More from Magee and others. The Sixers are counting on it.