Turner seems to possess what Vols’ Barnes wants in a point guard

Lamonte Turner must be a tough hombre.

The well-traveled Turner, whose career has taken him from high schools in Alabama to Florida and finally the IMG Academy, is the third player (so far) in Rick Barnes’ first recruiting class at Tennessee. Unlike Canadian big men Ray Kasongo and Kyle Alexander, Turner, a 6-1, 175-pound point guard, hasn’t signed scholarship papers. He’ll do so when he returns home to Alabama once his curriculum is complete at IMG.

Thus, neither Barnes nor his assistants can speak publicly about Turner’s skills. But we know he’s got to be tough. Those are the only kinds of point guards Barnes recruits, and he’s had some great ones over the years, from T.J. Ford to D.J. Augustine, to Cory Joseph and the one Barnes left behind when he departed Texas, Isaiah Taylor.

If they can’t discuss Turner in particular, Barnes’ assistants can talk about what qualities the boss likes in his point guards, and how he utilizes them. It matters not to Barnes whether a point guard candidate is a pure scorer (Augustine) or a pure set-up man (Ford). But there’s one trait that is imperative.

“The ability to run the team,” said Tennessee assistant Chris Ogden, who played for Barnes at Texas and was on his staff for 12 years. “We want that first and foremost.”

Associate head coach Rob Lanier echoed Ogden’s comment.

“Leadership,” Lanier said. “Command. There’s an intangible quality that a great point guard has. There’s a certain presence and command. There’s a skill set that comes with being a point guard, and there’s also a mindset. You want that combination of things. You want a guy who’s got the ball handling and passing skill and decision-making. But you also want a guy who’s got the mindset.”

Barnes has been successful with so-called “scoring points,” players who aggressively seek their own shot. From all accounts, Turner falls under this category. But Barnes has also won with set-up guys.

“Coach is a big believer in tweaking everything based on the personnel you have,” Ogden said. “Augustine could really score. T.J. was more of a true point guard. But the bottom line, no matter what their skill set is, a point guard who plays for coach is going to have to run the team. He’s got to be the playmaker and the guy that keeps everybody organized—an extension of coach Barnes on the floor.”

Turner was a fortuitous get for Tennessee. Originally set to graduate in 2015, he reclassified to 2016, only to move back to 2015. Not a lot of schools knew that, and Tennessee was one of the ones that did. It didn’t hurt that former coach Donnie Tyndall’s staff was already recruiting Turner.

Barnes can’t yet tell us whether Turner is more like Augustine or Ford, but Turner seems to lean more toward the former. For the last couple of years, Turner has been aware, and has made comments in the media, about his need to improve his playmaking skills. That explains his decision to attend IMG. He already had the scoring part down and just needed to refine the particulars of the point.

“Turner is a versatile guard, capable of playing on or off the ball,” said ESPN.com’s profile of Turner. “He shoots the ball very well from the 3-point line, is capable of making them in bunches, and has a complementing pull-up game and ability to attack close-outs to match.”

Turner’s ability to get his own points is important; the Vols, unless the staff springs some late recruiting surprises, aren’t loaded with firepower. But ESPN analysts are just as impressed with Turner’s more traditional point guard skills.

“He’s got a solid and well-rounded floor game [and] rarely gets rattled,” said ESPN, which rates Turner a four-star prospect. “He plays within the flow of the offense, and is a dependable decision maker with the ball in his hands.”

Now here’s where the tough part comes in. Turner, by most accounts, is an SEC-level player who can both score and facilitate. But he’s also going to have to possess an outer shell as tough as an armadillo.

Does that mean Barnes is hard on his point guards?

“That’s an understatement,” Lanier said. “Coach is truly demanding on that position, no question about it. He feels like your best players need to be your hardest workers and best leaders. In an ideal world, that guy would be your point guard. Coach wants his point guard to take ownership, but he wants him to earn it.

“Once they earn it, they get a lot of trust.”

Trust is built up in practice. That’s where winners emerge.

“Just because you have a nice handle and a skill set, that doesn’t necessarily encompass all that goes into winning,” Lanier said. “You’re not exempt from the same things coach is going to demand from his small forward, or anyone else. You’ve still got to block out. You’ve still got to get on loose balls. You still have to guard the ball.

“You’re not exempt. In fact, you’re held to an ever higher standard, because you’re the point the guard.”

Turner better be ready.

Again, turning to ESPN’s assessment, the future seems to bode well. In its summation of Turner, ESPN said:

“He’s the type of skilled and dependable guard who is going to be at his best in offensive structure because of his ability to both make shots as well as decisions with the ball in his hands.”


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