Saturday, January 14, 2017

Zavier Turner emerging and evolving as Manhattan's floor leader

Zavier Turner is more than just Manhattan's leading scorer, having become Jaspers' leader on and off the floor in his first season under Steve Masiello. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

Whoever said good things come in small packages must have had Zavier Turner in mind when coining the centuries-old adage.

At 5-foot-9, Turner may lack the size of some of his contemporaries, yet the Indianapolis-reared point guard carries an explosiveness about him that makes him even tougher to defend. But there was one part of his game he still needed to develop, a skill that is a prerequisite for his position: The ability to not only lead by example, but also be a vocal director on and off the floor.

"Prior to coming here, I never was one of those guys that was really comfortable leading the team," Turner admitted. "That's one thing Coach has helped me with since coming here. I'm really getting out of my comfort zone and leading guys, and I'm working on it every day."

Already the top scorer for Manhattan by virtue of averaging 16.9 points per game, Turner has translated his tutelage into paying dividends on the scoreboard, which is half the battle. Where he has made his biggest progress since arriving from Ball State, however, is the impact his persona has had on his teammates and the Jasper locker room, a quality his head coach compared to a true floor general of seasons past in Riverdale.

"He's RaShawn Stores-esque," Steve Masiello said of Turner, citing the redshirt junior's predecessor and emotional backbone of back-to-back NCAA Tournament teams, who now serves as a graduate assistant on the coaching staff. "He doesn't know it. He's a great charmer, has a great smile, he's our best player, and he plays unbelievably hard."

Playing for Masiello is not something for the weak at heart, as the coach demands the same level of perfection he has spent his life in the sport striving to attain, from his time as a walk-on at the University of Kentucky through his stint as an assistant coach under Hall of Fame mentor Rick Pitino. Turner has experienced that firsthand, having already endured a rough patch in his growth before fighting through it and becoming an increased presence in the very essence of what makes the Jaspers who they are.

"Truth be told, after Morgan State, he was in a bad way with me," Masiello revealed in December, when Manhattan had just come off a double-overtime loss in Baltimore before rebounding to close the non-conference season with wins in three of their last four contests.

"He's got to learn to lead this organization every day," Masiello said after Manhattan defeated Fordham on December 10. "He's responsible for that, and that's something we spoke about when he transferred here."

Since then, Turner has taken matters into his own hands, and done so whenever the situation called for it, in many different ways. Take the lead on offense? He has done that to the tune of seven 20-point games this season, including each of the last three. Set up his teammates? A team-leading 63 assists proves his prowess as a facilitator. Guide the younger players in learning and enhancing the winning culture? In the absence of Rich Williams, whose injury has cost him all of the current year to date, Turner's impact is felt perhaps most in this area, as his infusion of experience to go with learning a new system in his own right has given his younger backcourt partners a voice to lean on, a sounding board that also doubles as a student sitting next to them in the same classroom.

"He has everything about being a phenomenal leader," said Masiello. "He doesn't realize how much he impacts people, and that's something we talk about all the time."

The statistics may conceal the influence, but look no further than sophomore Tom Capuano as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Turner's determination and leadership. Now firmly entrenched as a starter, Capuano has fed off Turner to create his own identity on and off the ball to go along with a forged toughness that has branded him; in Masiello's own words, as the middle linebacker of the Manhattan program. In short, he does the little things that contribute to winning, and by extension, it is a side effect of Turner's work ethic rubbing off through practices and games. And while Turner is far from a finished product, he continues to thrive while being placed under the most critical of lenses, which comes with the territory of running the point. So far, the results have been mostly positive.

"Everything he does is under a microscope because he has such a huge personality," Masiello explained. "It's something he needs a lot of work on. He's made great strides and I'm very proud of him, but I think this is just the beginning."

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