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Indiana's Captain Courageous
William F. Reed
December 07, 1981
A car accident has left Hoosier star Landon Turner crippled, but still his teammates might well emulate him
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December 07, 1981

Indiana's Captain Courageous

A car accident has left Hoosier star Landon Turner crippled, but still his teammates might well emulate him

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When he learned of the seriousness of Turner's injury, Knight was stricken. In all his years of coaching, he had never had a player hurt anywhere near so badly. And Turner, because of the way he had come along last season, had become special to Knight. After many stormy days, the relationship between coach and player seemed destined for a happy ending. Knight delighted in retelling what Turner's father, a devoutly religious man, had supposedly said to a rival recruiter who had told him that Knight was an atheist: "I can take my boy to church to teach him what he needs to know about religion, but when it comes to basketball I'm going to take him to Bobby Knight at Indiana."

Turner's shortcoming through most of last season, as Knight saw it, was lack of concentration. At times, he would be awesome; other times he played as if in a fog. Knight seemed on the brink of giving up on him time and again, only to try a different tack with the enigmatic big man. Finally, Turner blossomed.

"Here was a kid who sort of floundered around," Knight says. "He was up and down academically and up and down athletically. All of a sudden he seemed to find a direction. He was attentive. He knew what was possible for him to achieve. He was as close to being a totally effective human being as he has ever been."

In the wake of the tragedy, Knight has personally taken charge of the effort to raise money to defray Turner's medical expenses. He has played in Softball games, attended cookouts, given his blessing to an exhibition by the Indiana Pacers and taken his team out in the state for a couple of exhibitions. When the Pacers presented a check for more than $93,000 to the Turner Trust Fund before the Miami game, it brought the total raised to around $300,000.

Moreover, Knight has made a conscious effort, in his inimitable way, to show Turner that he's still very much a part of the team. Or, as Knight put it, "I'm sure I'll find something to get on his ass about, just to make him feel at home."

Last Saturday, after hanging his letter jacket in the locker that's still reserved for him in the Indiana dressing room, Turner was taken out to watch the pre-game warmups. On the way he saw Mike LaFave, a teammate last season who is now being redshirted.

"Hey, Landon," said LaFave, smiling. "How you feel?"

"I feel great," said Turner. "I've never felt bad. I'm just not functionable."

Before he went out to face the public, Turner asked a team manager to move his feet so that they were exactly even on the footrests of his wheelchair, and he brushed his hair. He wanted to look good for the people who would applaud him and take his picture and ask for the autographs that he writes slowly, but firmly and legibly.

For a man who was supposed to have trouble regaining the use of his arms and hands, Turner has responded admirably to therapy. One reason, perhaps, is that he applies to therapy the diligence and determination he learned playing basketball for Knight. Turner is no stranger to hard work.

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