Just before 3:20 p.m., Myles Turner pulled a floppy, burnt-orange bucket hat onto his head and flashed a wide smile. The gymnasium inside Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, had already begun to fill with shrieking and clapping. The TV lights and cameras still were pointed directly at Turner, a 6-foot-11 basketball recruit wearing a tan tweed suit and bow tie.
“There’s a lot of pride coming from the state of Texas,” Turner said. “And to stay in the state means a lot to me to continue that legacy.”
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This is how Turner, a consensus top-10 recruit in the class of 2014, selected Texas on Wednesday, spurning Kansas and a group of other finalists in a televised ceremony on ESPNU.
Just last May, Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff watched their phones as No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins picked KU, a late recruiting coup that paved the way for the program’s 10th straight Big 12 title. This time, Self came up empty. A late visit to Turner earlier this month had kept the Jayhawks in the game, but Turner ultimately elected to stay closer to home, where his parents will be just a three-hour drive from Austin, Texas. His other finalists were Duke, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist and Texas A&M.
“Just watching Texas work last year, they're a real blue-collar program,” Turner said during an interview on ESPNU. “The only reason I’m here is through hard work, and I feel that’s what Texas has done and can do in the future.”
Turner said he was also happy to follow in the footsteps of Texas legend Kevin Durant, another 6-11 player who entered college with an advanced outside game.
“Just seeing what he was able to do with that program, it kind of inspired me a bit,” Turner said.
Turner, of course, is not Durant. A late riser on the national AAU scene, he could even have difficulty cracking the starting lineup for a suddenly talent-rich Texas program. But his decision on Wednesday could have lasting ramifications in the Big 12 race.
The Longhorns are set to return their entire roster after finishing 22-9 and 11-7 in the Big 12 last season. Turner will join a nucleus that includes sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor, power forward Jonathan Holmes and center Cameron Ridley.
“Texas just made themselves the favorite in the Big 12,” said ESPN recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi, who likened Turner to former Longhorns standout LaMarcus Aldridge. Biancardi said that with Turner, the Longhorns could derail Kansas.
At the very least, the conference should feature two top-10 teams in the preseason polls. Self, meanwhile, should boast a roster that could be ranked in the preseason top five — even after the departures one-and-done freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, both headed for the NBA Draft.
Starting power forward Perry Ellis will return for his junior season after averaging 13.5 points per game, while guard Wayne Selden will be back for his sophomore year. The current two-man recruiting class includes forward Cliff Alexander and swingman Kelly Oubre, both top-10 recruits. Alexander, a Chicago native, could slide into the starting lineup, while Oubre will battle for minutes in a backcourt rotation that will also feature Conner Frankamp, Frank Mason and Brannen Greene.
Turner would have provided a valuable rim protector in the middle, but forwards Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson should be able to provide depth in the frontcourt. Self has likened Mickelson’s shot-blocking ability to former center Jeff Withey — just not as potent. A 6-10 forward, Mickelson will have two years of eligibility after sitting out last year.
“From a shot-blocking standpoint, you can say he’s a poor-man’s Jeff,” Self said last year. “He’s an excellent shot-blocker.”
The Jayhawks are also still recruiting Devonte Graham, a point guard from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Graham, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, cut his list to KU and North Carolina State on Wednesday morning.
Graham, ranked No. 36 in Rivals’ top 150 rankings, is expected to make his decision in the next week.