Turner recovered quickly to save Ohio State's season (cont.)
From there Turner's rehab work continued to an exercise bicycle, then the elliptical machine, a treadmill and finally onto the court. He could lightly lift weights. And, of course, he could dribble. While the team practiced, he'd be on the sideline bouncing the ball over and over and over.
"Evan always finds a way to work on his game," Diebler says. "That's what makes him such a special player."
Once Turner regained his range of motion, O'Brien devised activities to help regain his flexibility and strength. Then he could play basketball in a controlled environment: individual shooting, team offensive drills with no defense or contact and then, finally, full practice.
A few days before Ohio State's Jan. 6 home game against Indiana, the team physician gave Turner medical clearance to return to the court after missing just six games (half of the original estimate). Now all he needed was clearance from his mother.
Hearing that her son intended to return to action so far ahead of schedule, James again drove the nearly six hours from Chicago to Columbus to watch Turner practice.
Though Turner insists he would have played anyway ("I felt like I been out too long already," he says), the point was moot because James, suitably convinced that her son was ready, gave her blessing.
O'Brien says he ordered a special, tight-fitting Nike undershirt with a little bit of padding -- not unlike the undershirt he wore even before the injury -- but otherwise Turner has no restrictions.
"He was in unbelievable shape before he got hurt," O'Brien said, "so I think that allowed him to recover much quicker."
And Turner couldn't wait to return. O'Brien says he was impressed at how well Turner visualized himself on the court while watching from the sidelines and how he'd break down in excruciating detail what he would have done in certain situations. So eager was Turner to play that, before his first game back, Matta was watching old tape of the Buckeyes' game against Florida State and saw something he wanted to share with his player. He called Turner, who answered the phone in his apartment, where he was already watching tape of the same game.
The Buckeyes were eager, too, after going 3-3 without Turner. The wins came against Cleveland State, Delaware State and Presbyterian. In its three losses, Ohio State averaged just 57.7 points per game against nationally ranked Butler and Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Michigan.
Turner returned in an ideal situation, playing 20 minutes in a 25-point rout of Indiana. And he even dunked once, helping overcome any lingering doubts after the way he was injured. "I don't feel any hesitation," Turner says. "I just go out there and play. That's the only thing I can do. I don't really get nervous on the court."
His real first test came six days later on the road at then-No. 6 Purdue, in which he scored every point of a 14-2 late second-half run to turn a 10-point deficit into a two-point lead en route to a 70-66 upset win. In that game he scored a career-high 32 points, to go with nine rebounds and three assists.
Purdue coach Matt Painter compared Turner's versatility to that of NBA great Scottie Pippen, and Boilermakers' defensive specialist Chris Kramer said Turner is "the best player I've ever guarded. He looks like he's loose with the ball, but he has it on a string. He can spin in the lane, he can shoot it and has a nice pull-up. He has everything working for him. He's a stud."
Turner, who has won four Big Ten Player of the Week awards in six healthy weeks of competition, is likely the country's single most valuable player to his team and may be Kentucky point guard John Wall's stiffest competition for national player of the year (for more on this subject, check out Andy Glockner's piece on Turner). After falling out the national rankings, the Buckeyes are back at No. 20, having gone 4-2 since Turner returned, losing only a pair of road games, at Minnesota and No. 9 West Virginia.
If the original eight-week estimate had been correct, Turner would only be returning on Sunday for the rematch with Minnesota. Instead, the competitive player and his aggressive rehab won over his empathetic coach and protective mother to turn Ohio State back into a serious contender.
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors