Yet in a sense, Turgeon’s hiring represented a homecoming for a Kansas-bred coach who has been around the sport his entire life, marking his return, after four seasons at Texas A&M, to a campus where college basketball is king.
“I was lucky enough to be at the University of Kansas for nine years,” Turgeon, 46, said of the school where he played for four seasons and coached for five, “and this is the closest thing, or equal, to the passion they feel at Kansas.”
Never short on confidence and with clearly defined goals, Turgeon has prepared for this moment since grade school.
The middle child among five in a basketball-crazed family from Topeka, Kan., he could dribble at age 2. From grammar school on, he played nearly every day on the full court that his father, who played at Creighton, installed in the back yard.
“If it was snowing, we’d get shovels out and play,” says Rob Reilly, who grew up one block away and played on the same basketball team with Turgeon from third grade through high school.
When it was just the two of them, they would pretend they were Darnell Valentine or Rolando Blackman, announcing the games as they played and taking turns hitting the game-winner at the buzzer.
Turgeon was a fixture at Hayden High School games as a youngster, sitting directly behind the coach’s bench, two rows up, with his father and older brother. He would crane his neck forward like a baby giraffe each time the coach spoke to his players on the bench, trying to listen in on the conversation.
‘He just knew what to do’
Turgeon eventually enrolled at Hayden, where his diminutive stature — he was just 5 feet 8 and 125 pounds as a senior, and that was after a growth spurt his sophomore year — belied a basketball IQ that was off the charts, according to his former coach, Ben Meseke.
“Size had nothing to do with it; it was the size of his heart and his brain,” said Meseke, 63, a legendary figure in Kansas sports who won six state titles. “He just knew what to do and when to do it. Coaches always look for that kid who’s going to be a coach on the floor. I’ve had some pretty good teams over the years and yet he has got to be the finest coach-on-the-floor that I’ve ever had or seen.”
So when no college extended a scholarship, Meseke arranged a meeting with Kansas Coach Larry Brown, who was looking for players to pad the thin Jayhawks roster he had inherited when he arrived in Lawrence in 1983.
“He was about 5-7, 5-8 and 130 pounds and walked into my office and basically said he was as good as any of the guards we had in the program, and I should give him a scholarship,” Brown recalls, still chuckling over Turgeon’s pluck.