Frank Turner is developing like a photo snapped with a digital camera, his image taking shape quickly and clearly. The Canisius College basketball team is his to run as the starting point guard, a position of leadership, the one certainty in this rebuilding program.
Ready or not, freshman or not, the Atlantic City, N.J., product is being asked to mature faster than is fair to ask. So far, he's played beyond expectations.
"When I first started, I didn't know what was wanted out of me," said Turner, who will lead the Golden Griffins (3-7) against Big 4 rival St. Bonaventure (3-8) at 2 this afternoon in the Koessler Center. "Then it came to me, run the offense, get the people the ball when they want it and where they are supposed to get it. Now, it's just flowing."
In other Big 4 action today, the University at Buffalo (7-5) will try and rebound from its lackluster showing Thursday in a loss to Delaware State when it hosts Siena at Alumni Arena, while Niagara (3-6) also steps outside of conference play at Central Michigan. Tip-off for both games is 2 p.m.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Turner is averaging 10.4 points and a team-high 4.5 assists. Since he was inserted into the starting lineup four games ago, he's averaging 11.5 points, 7.2 assists and just 3.5 turnovers a game. Turner also has played 156 of a possible 160 minutes.
Turner's play is invoking fond memories of Javone "Bam" Moore, the school's career assists leader who played from 1993 to '97. If Turner continues at his current assists clip, he will post the third-highest single-season total in school history behind Duke Richardson (215) and Jim Schofield (198).
"He's going to be a special player," said Robert Morris coach Mark Schmidt, whose team Turner lit up for 11 assists and just three turnovers in 40 minutes Wednesday night. "He can get into the lane and draw and kick. Once he gets a jump shot, he's going to be really good."
What's more amazing is that coach Tom Parrotta landed a player of Turner's ability so late. Turner had a reputation for being turnover prone but was still offered scholarships by Rhode Island and Northeastern among others.
In April, Central Florida arranged for Turner to make a visit during his senior trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., but at the last minute Turner said the school received a commitment from a junior college point guard and stopped recruiting him. Turner was still in Orlando when Canisius assistant Rob Norris sent him a text message: "Have u signed yet?" When Turner replied he hadn't, Norris called him immediately. Turner liked the situation at Canisius best, and signed in May.
Turner didn't start initially as Parrotta went with the more seasoned Bret Wackerly, a sophomore. But when Wackerly picked up two quick fouls in the Griffins' game against Syracuse, that cleared the lane for Turner to display his talent. In only his third college game, the freshman effortlessly broke down the Orange defense and flirted with a triple-double (eight points, 10 rebounds, seven assists), which brought praise from Syracuse Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.
"The smallest man on the floor got 10 rebounds," he said. "That says a lot."
Two games later, Wackerly transferred, reportedly to Division II Ashland in Ohio, and the offense is officially Turner's to run the next 3 1/2 seasons.
"He's the little engine that drives everything," Parrotta said. "You can't keep him in front of you and the other people are reaping the rewards. Pawel [Malesa] for jumpers, Darnell [Wilson] for dunks. They've got to like playing with him."
Turner is a dependable jump shot away from being a complete point guard. Although he's shooting a respectable .466 from the field, he's 3 of 10 from three-point range. Parrotta showed Turner a newspaper clip about a player who worked on his jump shot by shooting 400 times daily. Turner went into the gym and started firing away.
"He eats that kind of stuff up," Parrotta said. "He's a gym rat. He's working on his game. You'll find him in there before practice and you'll find him in there after."
Sounds like a leader in the making.