A former Mid-American Conference Rookie of the Year at Ball State, Zavier Turner now plies his wares at Manhattan, where he is eligible after sitting out last season due to transfer. (Photo by the Indianapolis Star)
At only 5-foot-9, it is easy to run into Zavier Turner and not assume he is a Division I college basketball player.
But what the Indianapolis native lacks in stature, he more than makes up for with his relentless hustle and ability to be equal parts explosive and complementary on both ends of the floor, something Manhattan will be grateful to have at the point guard spot this season.
"I'm just out there having fun," Turner said at Wednesday afternoon's New York College Basketball media day, held at Hofstra University. "I'm not out there trying to necessarily play to the fans. I'm playing for my team, I'm playing for my coaches, I'm playing for what we stand for, and I'm just ready to play."
The former Ball State transfer brings a scoring acumen and underrated shot-making ability that Manhattan will count on to pay dividends right away as Turner replaces RaShawn Stores as the Jaspers' floor general. In two years with the Cardinals, Turner averaged a combined 10.5 points and 3.5 assists per game in the Mid-American Conference, taking home MAC Rookie of the Year honors in the 2013-14 season, an exceedingly bright spot for a Ball State team that only won 12 games during his time in Muncie. In addition to his credentials on the floor, he adds a hunger to contribute that has only been enhanced by having sat out last season as a result of his NCAA-mandated year in residence.
"It helped a lot, more than I intended on," said Turner of learning Steve Masiello's system, one that predicates itself on an uptempo style offensively while seeking to force turnovers and get opposing teams disjointed on the defensive end. "It was hard for me sitting out watching the guys I go to war with in practice every single day and not being out there, that did something to me. But at the same time, I feel like it really helped me, and I'm ready to start the season."
"Last year, I stayed in the gym," he added, a fact that anyone who walked into Draddy Gymnasium can attest to, as Turner would be out on the floor long before and long after games, simply getting shots up and staying in shape. "That was my main thing since I couldn't play in games. I knew what I was here for and I knew I wanted to become a better basketball player, and the only way for me to do that was to stay in the gym."
And while some may view Ball State on a higher level than Manhattan, Turner was quick to dispel the notion of disparity between the two programs, intoning that there was a greater similarity than casual observers would realize at first blush.
"Honestly, I don't think it's any different," he admitted. "We work harder here, or just as hard, as I did at Ball State, we play just as big teams here as we did at Ball State. I don't feel like it's a big difference. The goal here is to win games like Coach Mas said, and our main focus is to remain focused."
It is the multifaceted focus that makes Turner so vital to Manhattan's roster this season, and his coach makes no bones about recognizing the importance of his point guard's commitment, no matter the atmosphere he is placed in.
"I think he's a guy that, in one-on-one situations, is close to unguardable," Masiello said of Turner's game and what he brings to the Jasper program. "He's a guy who knows how to play well in the pick-and-roll. I think he's going to put constant pressure on the defense to get in the lane and force rotations, and he's a guy who can shoot the ball from deep, so he's a guy you have to honor, you have to guard. More than anything, he's a guy that can pick you up 94 feet and really disrupt your offense."
Turner's two-way prowess will undoubtedly be beneficial, but at the end of the day, he; like every other student-athlete that has bought into Masiello's vision over his six-year tenure in Riverdale, is cognizant of the greater good and the primary objective for a team chasing its third Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in four seasons.
"Our goal is to win games," he bluntly stated. "Coach Mas, that's his job, and my job is whatever he needs me to do. Whatever it is, I'm going to do it, period, point blank. Our job is to go out there and play hard, play for our team and just focus on winning games."