“They talk about a fire in the belly. Mark has a furnace,” said Jim Schauss, the athletic director who hired Turgeon to coach at Wichita State. “And it burns white-hot.”
Modern-day coaching is a balancing act: juggling the recruitment of future players with the teaching of current ones, challenging rules while still following them.
On the basketball court, Turgeon, in his 15th season running a program, says he has mellowed slightly over the years. The goal is still to win a national championship but not at all costs.
Here’s one example: The 2009 season was winding down and prognosticators had Texas A&M firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble. Some players missed curfew and another was late for a team meeting. Turgeon benched most of his starting lineup for their next game.
“He didn’t put us in until late in the half. I kept looking at him, like, are you serious?” said Donald Sloan, now a guard with the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s him, though. He doesn’t front. He doesn’t put on an act.”
The Aggies won the game and made the tournament.
‘He understood the game’
When Turgeon was barely 10 years old, his team of fifth-graders was playing in a city tournament in Topeka, Kan. The team was leading by one point in the final minute when Turgeon was fouled. Two points would have given his team an insurmountable lead.
“I figured, well, he’ll make both,” said Bob Turgeon, Mark’s father and coach. “We’ll win the game and go home happy.”
Turgeon instead missed the front end of a one-and-one. The opposing team grabbed the rebound, raced down the court and drained a buzzer-beater to win by one.
Losing never was easy for Turgeon, but back then, in 1975, he found sanctuary in the back yard, where Turgeon’s father had enough concrete poured for a full court.
Turgeon returned home and stood in the cold at the free throw line and kept shooting: 50 . . . 100 . . . 250 . . . 500. It wasn’t punishment as much as preparation.
Turgeon was all of 5 feet tall when he began high school, but he was always confident in his abilities. Early during his junior season, he walked into the coach’s office. “Why am I not starting?” he said. “If I start, we probably won’t lose a game.”
Turgeon started and after that the team lost two games in two years, capped by a pair of state championships.
Colleges didn’t have much use for him, either. Brown was the head coach at Kansas then, and John Calipari was an assistant. They both love to tell the story of a teenaged Turgeon approaching them at an ice cream parlor.
“He basically said, ‘I’m better than the point guard you have right now,’ ” said Calipari, now the head coach at Kentucky. “It was funny because we were all like, who the hell is this kid?”