Bryan Turner Uses Basketball to Escape Turmoil of Inner City

    Bryan Turner has made nine of his last 14 3-point shots.

    Bryan Turner has made nine of his last 14 3-point shots.
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    Jan. 13, 2004

    By Seth Whitehead

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - A 2002 report named St. Louis the most dangerous city in the United States.

    The ranking was based on the city's crime rate in six categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft.

    Predictably, city officials scoffed at this dubious distinction.

    But Southern Illinois University senior guard Bryan Turner knows all too well about the validity of that report. A native of poverty-stricken north St. Louis, violence was just a part of life where Turner grew up.

    He saw many of his friends fall victim to their bleak environment. At best, they amounted to nothing. At worst, they got killed.

    "St. Louis was real tough for me," Turner said. "It was hard growing up."

    That's why getting out of that environment and going to college was such an important step in Turner's life. And basketball was his ticket out.

    After a standout prep career in which he became the all-time leading scorer at Beaumont High School, Turner moved on to Mineral Area Community College in Farmington, Mo.

    Tiny Farmington was light years away from the environment Turner came from and provided peace of mind.

    "It was the chance to go become something or do what everyone else was doing, which was nothing," Turner said in last year's SIU media guide.

    And become something he did.

    Not only did Turner average 18 points as a sophomore at Mineral Area - being named an honorable mention All-American - he also got his grades up enough to take the next step to a Division I program.

    "I didn't get a chance to come to a D-I right out of high school," Turner said. "I was recruited by a whole lot of schools, but my grades wouldn't allow me to go. (Mineral Area) made me grow up a lot."

    He came to SIU last year and was a key contributor off the bench for a team that repeated as Missouri Valley Conference champions and went the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. He also settled academically, majoring in journalism.

    But that old saying, you can't go home again, doesn't apply to Turner.

    His basketball talents have allowed him to play on the biggest hoops stage in his hometown - the Saavis Center. The Salukis played Saint Louis University in a regular-season game last season and advanced to the MVC Tournament Championship in the same arena a couple months later.

    "I really look forward to that," Turner said of playing at Saavis. "I wish we could play Saint Louis again. It was a big dream to play in that (the MVC Tournament), but hopefully this year we can get a chance to win it so I can add another piece to my life."

    Now a senior, Turner is playing a starring role in the Saluki backcourt. He has started every game at point guard and and has been the team's most deadly 3-point shooter in the last two games. In wins against Indiana State and Wichita State last week, Turner knocked down 9-of-14 shots from outside the arc (.643). In his career, he is 27-for-52 from 3-point range (.519) in MVC games.

    "Being here a full year, playing with these guys a full year, then traveling with them in the summer - you kind of get adjusted to just playing instead of thinking and trying to react," Turner said. "I've played in big games and know what to expect."

    Things are going well for Turner, but he's not about to forget where he came from.

    "In reality, I'm never going to leave there, 'cause that's all in my head (still)," Turner said. "That's how I grew up. That's part of me. I just take that with me in my journey through life.

    "It's just a state of mind. You can't lose that no matter how much money you have, or how many different places you travel."

    But Turner isn't dwelling on the past. He hopes to use the tough memories of growing up as fuel to make a difference. In fact, he wants to be a role model.

    "A black male role model is not something kids see every day back in my neighborhood," Turner said. "When I go back and they see me, I give them hope, that somebody can make it out of nothing.

    "I'm real proud of myself, you know, but I still have goals and dreams that I'm trying to accomplish," Turner said. "I can't stop now. This is the beginning. When I set goals, I set them real high. One I have in the back of my head is someday I just want to be a spark to do my part to help the world out. Hopefully, I can use journalism as a stepping stone, just like I used basketball as a stepping stone to get ahead in life."