November 24, 2009 7:31:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The smile on Phil Turner''s face says it all.
The junior guard isn''t fixated on whether he is a starter or if he is coming off the bench. He is focused on working hard, having a good time, and doing whatever he needs to do to help the Mississippi State men''s basketball team have a successful season.
So far, Turner''s presence on the court has helped the Bulldogs (2-1) click. He is averaging nine points and eight rebounds a game as MSU prepares to face Texas-Pan American at 7 tonight at Humphrey Coliseum.
"Basketball is a fun game, and when we''re playing it the right way it is fun," Turner said.
Turner was all smiles in the second half Saturday of the Bulldogs'' 67-51 victory against Bethune-Cookman. He picked up two quick fouls in the first half and had to sit out the final 17-plus minutes. In the second half, Turner was whistled for his third foul at the 18-minute, 45-second mark, but MSU coach Rick Stansbury opted to keep him in the game.
The decision proved to be the right one because Turner sparked the Bulldogs with a dunk, a steal, and a 3-pointer that helped MSU push its lead to 51-38 with 7:28 remaining. He also fed Barry Stewart for a 3-pointer that kicked the Bulldogs'' lead to 65-45 with 2:20 remaining.
After stretches in which the MSU offense slowed to a crawl, the Bulldogs seemed to find their rhythm with Turner in the game. Playing as a starter for the suspended Kodi Augustus, Turner had nine points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Stansbury credited Turner for giving the team a lift when it needed one. He said he has come to expect things like that from Turner.
"His growth has come as a person," Stansbury said. "As a freshman, Phil was one of those guys who was really difficult to coach. He is a good person. To his credit, he has come miles. I have told him several times this fall that he finally got it. That is good when you can tell a player he got it. That is what you look for because he understands right now."
Stansbury said Turner "gets it" on and off the court and knows where he is going in life. He said Turner''s realization allows him to play at a high level and to accept things.
"He has one ingredient that separates him from a lot of people: His toughness," Stansbury said. "He has great toughness. That is a great ability. That is an ability you guys underestimate in a player just how important it is. Toughness is a great ability. He has as much of that ability as anybody we have on this team."
Turner averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last season as MSU went 23-13 and won the Southeastern Conference tournament to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. He scored in double figures 13 times and had 10 or more rebounds in five games, including three double-doubles.
The statistics reflected Turner''s maturation. His points per game and assists more than doubled, while his rebounding improved from 2.8 per game as a freshman. He also had 20 more steals (46) last season compared to his freshman campaign.
With Augustus scheduled to return to action tonight, Stansbury said he will see who will start and who will see significant minutes in the rotation as the season progresses.
Turner isn''t always so sure that "he gets it," but he said he always will give his best to get there.
"I am just working hard," Turner said. "Coach has stuck with me and kept pushing me, pushing me, pushing me. I think (by saying I get it) he means I understand a lot better what is going on in the program and in the system. I fit in now."
MSU senior center Jarvis Varnado said Turner plays a variety of roles for the Bulldogs, including sparkplug.
"At first, Phil didn''t know his role," Varnado said. "Now he knows his role and he brings us energy. He is playing the four (power forward) right now, and he is quicker than the average four. He can step out and the shoot the long ball, which spreads them out. It plays to his advantage."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.