KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner came back from the Vols’ basketball weekend in Florida both buoyed and chastened by the experience.
Given the difference in those two feelings, it’s a wonder the redshirt senior point guard isn’t being treated for whiplash as a result.
On Friday, Turner was apologizing to his teammates after committing eight turnovers in a 60-57 loss to Florida State at the Emerald Coast Classic. Tennessee committed 21 in all and the Seminoles benefitted with 23 corresponding points. Turner committed three of his turnovers early, which helped Florida State build a 10-point lead.
A day later, Turner stood in the middle of the court in Niceville, Fla., with his arms spread wide, acknowledging the cheers of UT fans in attendance. He hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat VCU 72-69.
Through thick and thin, Turner is intent on pushing forward, full steam ahead into the next experience. In this case, it’s a game against Florida A&M on Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: SEC Network, 7 p.m.)
“I’ve been playing this game for a little while now,” Turner said last week, after dishing out 12 assists in a 58-46 home victory over Chattanooga. “I understand that you have to play the next possession. You’re going to have some nights where it doesn’t go in or something doesn’t go your way but you’re just got to continue to grind and grind because at the end of the day a W is better than an L in the record book.”
Despite all of his experience, Turner is making fresh tracks as Tennessee’s leader this season. He said during the team’s preseason media day that he watched podcasts about leadership during the offseason to prepare for his role.
He also used the down time afforded him by offseason arthroscopic shoulder surgery to watch freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James’ offseason workouts and constructively critique his every move. James said that he was impressed and grateful for the tutelage.
Now Turner is wading into the heat-of-battle portion of his role. UT’s season opener against UNC Asheville served as a worthy preview. In the midst of rebuking Turner for taking the “lowest percentage shots in basketball,” UT coach Rick Barnes hailed him for being “as good of a leader, if not the best leader we’ve had since we’ve been here.”
Barnes has said that Turner essentially was the first player that he and his staff recruited at Tennessee. Barnes has watched Turner grow as a player and a man and has been proud of his development. Small wonder then that Barnes alluded to Turner’s shoulder as a possible reason for his 2-for-12 shooting against Murray State last month. No surprise either that Turner refused to entertain questions about such conjecture.
Turner won’t lack for toughness or integrity as a team leader. What he needs more of going forward is trust. For example, more belief in his teammates should result in fewer turnovers. He currently leads the team with 28.
“I’m forcing it, I’m trying to over-compensate,” he said, “and I need to trust my teammates more and give them the ball and get rid of it sometimes when I’m trying to make the play. I think as I continue to learn from Coach Barnes, I’m going to continue to get better in that aspect.”
More belief in UT’s offense also should help in terms of shot selection and accuracy. Although he’s second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.3 points per game, Turner is shooting just 30.6 percent from the floor and 27 percent on 3-pointers.
“I just need to take the right shots on offense,” he said, “and when we get good shots on offense, I think my 3-pointer will level off.”
In turn, Turner needs some relief from his teammates. He’s averaging nearly 36 minutes of playing time per game. He suffered from cramps in his calves during the last six minutes against Florida State that were so severe he struggled to get up off the court.
While whiplash isn’t a concern, fatigue is.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at email@example.com