Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Josiah Turner worked out in front of personnel from all 30 NBA teams at the Nets training facility here Thursday.
The gym featured some of the top names in the business, including Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge, Nets GM Billy King, Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers, Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, to name a few.
A couple of years ago, that might not have come as much of a surprise.
After all, Turner was ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2011 by Rivals and was considered a potential one-and-done player when he committed to head coach Sean Miller and Arizona.
But that was before all his troubles began.
Before Turner was arrested by Arizona campus police in April 2012 on suspicion of extreme DUI when he ran a red light and notched blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 and 0.16, twice the legal limit.
Before he considered transferring to SMU and playing for coach Larry Brown, only to turn pro instead.
Before he bounced around to pro stops in Hungary and Canada.
And before he served two days in prison on the DUI charge.
Now, instead of a one-and-done talent looking at a potential spot in the first round, the 6-foot-3, 192-pound Turner simply hopes someone — anyone — will take a chance on him so he can prove that he has turned his life around and can contribute in the NBA.
“At the end of the day, I know that he’s a first-round talent but with his baggage and people being afraid of if he’s grown up a lot, we’re looking to get drafted in the second round,” Gregory Nunn, one of Turner’s agents, told SNY.tv.
Nunn said Turner recently had a “private workout” in Los Angeles in front of “about 13 teams” and also worked out for the Lakers. He said the Nets, Golden State, Miami and Detroit have also spoken to him about Turner.
Still, Turner has his hands full in terms of rehabilitating his image.
One NBA GM in attendance Thursday used the phrases “bad kid,” “sh—ty attitude,” “troublemaker” and “criminal” in describing Turner.
“He’s a fringe D-League guy,” the GM, speaking anonymously, told SNY.tv.
The GM said that if Turner had the talent of, say, Michigan’s Trey Burke, a likely lottery pick, it might be worth taking a flyer on him in the draft.
But because Turner doesn’t have that talent, teams will be less inclined to do so.
Turner looked athletic in getting up and down the court, but was outplayed by Louisville’s Peyton Siva, himself a potential second-round pick.
“I haven’t done the homework on his character,” one veteran NBA scout in attendance told SNY.tv. “I’ve heard people make some comments. He’s a terrific athlete, but I just don’t see that his understanding of how to play and his skillset offensively is where it needs to be.”
Turner did not speak to the media Thursday but seems aware that he needs to change his image and says he has grown up after a difficult situation playing overseas in Hungary and a more successful one in Canada.
Of the Hungary experience, Turner told Yahoo! Sports: “It was like projects I was staying in – third-world projects. I’ve lived in some bad places, but that was horrible out there. I’d go to practice and show the coaches that I had bedbug bites on my back and all on my neck and everything. I wanted to stay there and show I could handle it, but my agent just decided to get me out of there.”
Nunn told SNY.tv: “Hungary was all on me. We wanted him to go to Europe and play professionally and get paid. And his first two games there, he had 30 points, 30 points and 10 assists, 30 points, seven assists. But for some reason, I don’t know, the living situation was not good. He showed us pictures of where he was living and bedbug bites everywhere. I decided to pull him out of that. I mean, it would’ve been a good situation for after a while, but not living-wise.”
Now when Turner meets with NBA teams, they are on the lookout to see that he has learned from his mistakes and has matured.
“We interviewed Josiah yesterday and we talked about the rough road’s he had and things he’s gotta do to correct not just the perception but to give him the best chance going forward,” Nets Director of Player Personnel Gregg Polinsky said.
Asked how Turner could best correct that perception, Polinsky said: “I think it’s more than interview well. You gauge a guy, just like you do when you sit down in a conversation, about their instincts. And when you look them in the eye and you think they’re giving you an honest answer. But only time heals some of that. Do you start to demonstrate good habits versus bad habits?”
Turner’s agents say he has begun to change his habits, in part, by changing his friends.
“The first thing he’s done is he’s admitted that he made a lot of dumb mistakes when he was younger,” Nunn said. “And playing in Canada this year really helped him mature as a man. He learned how to behave like a professional. So I think by him admitting it was the first step and changing the people he hangs around and so on and so on. But I think he’s definitely going in the right direction.”
Turner told Yahoo: “Everything I’ve been through has served a purpose because it has humbled me and forced me to mature. I’m more focused and disciplined now. I’ll never go down a bad path again.”
Nunn points to Turner’s tenure with the Summerside Storm in Canada beginning in January as evidence that he has matured as a player.
He averaged 13.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals in eight playoff games while helping the Storm reach the league finals.
“We really believe that the year he spent down in Canada really helped him mature a lot, really helped him understand what he needed to do to get to the next step, which is his end-goal is the NBA,” said Cervando Tejeda, Turner’s co-agent.
“I believe these workouts are going to actually prepare him to get to his end-goal.”
Photo: USA Today SportsFollow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.