(MCT) — EVANSTON, Ill. — Unheralded would be an apt way to describe Mike Turner.
He’s 6-foot-8 with hops, but his best attribute coming out of the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools might have been his grades.
“Good student,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said Monday, recalling his recruitment of Turner.
“He was pretty athletic but very skinny,” Carmody said. “I wasn’t sold on him, and as a staff I don’t think we were sold on him. But he played hard, was versatile, could run and jump pretty well.”
Turner redshirted last season, unusual for a Big Ten basketball player. But he’s already playing a huge role this year.
He logged 36 minutes Saturday in NU’s 72-69 overtime victory over Illinois State, a team that was 5-0 and that many expect to earn an NCAA tournament bid out of the Missouri Valley.
Carmody played starting center Alex Olah for only nine minutes because of the quickness of the Illinois State big men.
Both Olah and Turner will be needed Tuesday when the Wildcats host Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC — no, Big Ten/soon-to-be-Big Ten — Challenge.
The Terrapins, coached by former Kansas point guard and Texas A&M head man Mark Turgeon, are one of the nation’s tallest teams. Alex Len, a 7-1 sophomore from Ukraine, is the most prominent skyscraper.
“He can make a 14-footer,” Carmody said. “He can face up. He runs. He’s active. And he’s aggressive.”
He scored 23 points (on 10-for-18 shooting) in Maryland’s 72-69 season-opening loss to Kentucky in Brooklyn. Opponents have double-teamed him since, so he’s averaging 13.8 points in the Terrapins’ last four games, all victories against lower-level foes.
“They have a lot of tall guys,” Turner said. “They try to pound the ball inside. We have to be ready for it.”
Turner is a good defender at a lean but muscular 215 pounds, and his passing skills have translated to 14 assists in 108 minutes, the second-best ratio on the team after point guard Dave Sobolewski.
“I’m a lot more ready physically (than last year),” Turner said. “That’s big because when you play Big Ten teams, it’s a war out there.”
Injury update: Sobolewski sat out Monday with a bruised toe, but Carmody said he could have practiced. ... Freshman Sanjay Lumpkin has returned from missing about 10 days with mono and is expected to join the rotation soon. ... Alex Marcotullio has a stiff back that is keeping his minutes in check. He did drain a clutch 3-pointer against Illinois State, the only shot he took in five minutes.