Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon on his Kansas roots
Mark Turgeon last lived in Kansas in 2007, when he left Wichita State to coach Texas A&M before moving on to Maryland in 2011.
But he is no less a product of his entrenched roots in Topeka and Lawrence and Wichita.
Which is how he came to take his two “brainwashed sons” to New York’s Citi Field last fall to see the Royals win the World Series for the first time in 30 years.
“By the end of the game, we were on the dugout, basically,” said Turgeon, who also had been at Kauffman Stadium for Game 7 in 1985 and still tracks the Royals fiendishly. “I literally can’t go to bed at night until I get a Royals score, unless they’re playing on the West Coast. Then it gets hard. But it’s something I follow pretty closely.”
As strongly as he feels that, though, Turgeon has had a more intimate relationship with his alma mater: Kansas.
And that complicates his fifth-seeded Terrapins drawing the overall No. 1 seed KU in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 matchup set for approximately 8:40 p.m. on Thursday.
While Turgeon tried to downplay his insta-react comment from Sunday — “I hate that I have to play Kansas” — it’s hard to imagine he can fully compartmentalize this.
That’s in part because somewhere in his mind, consciously or subconsciously, he has to know he could be among the select few prospects for the KU job if Bill Self leaves for any reason in the next few years.
Between his indoctrination in the program, ongoing appreciation of it and his success (364-217 overall), Turgeon would have a striking profile for a job he’d seemingly crave.
But Turgeon’s resume still could use some burnishing: He’s 0-6 against Kansas, he’s 8-6 in NCAA Tournament play and never has taken a team past the Sweet 16.
He could change all of that with a win on Thursday.
That said, however this game plays out, however inevitable it is that one day Self will leave or retire, there also doesn’t seem to be anything imminent to think about.
Self has given no public indication he’s tempted to go to the NBA and has rebuffed past overtures from his own alma mater, Oklahoma State — thus leaving scant reason for him to consider any other college job.
Meanwhile, Turgeon is 51. Young yet.
But if Self, 54, stays at KU anything more than another five years or so, Turgeon’s age could be perceived as a liability.
Especially for a college basketball pillar that, the nomadic Larry Brown aside, has been built on long-term coaching stints: KU has had only six coaches since Phog Allen took over for the second time in 1919.
Moreover, any number of other candidates could emerge as time passes.
Come what may, though, this much we know:
Turgeon still reflexively identifies with KU, reiterated as recently as after Kansas’ triple-overtime win over Oklahoma in January:
“Oklahoma’s hot, the whistle wasn’t really going great for us,” he told local reporters the next day. “And we were able to pull it off in the end.”
That attachment started with recruiting Kansas himself, he said and later “begging” coach Larry Brown to include him as a member of Brown’s first recruiting class in 1983.
Then Turgeon further entwined himself by becoming a two-time team captain who played on the 1986 Final Four team.
“He wasn’t very big, but he got all the talent he had out of that 5-10, 160-pound frame,” said Self, who played against him at Oklahoma State and was a KU graduate assistant for a season during Turgeon’s time.
Turgeon would later tie this knot tighter by marrying a KU basketball team manager, Ann Fowler, whom he met as an assistant to Brown.
While Turgeon also worked for and emulates Roy Williams, he remains particularly close to Brown and so steeped in that early influence that Self said, “I guarantee (Turgeon) still does the same drills he did with (Brown) back in the day.”
All of which belies what Turgeon will tell you about this clash.
“The Kansas thing is not that weird to me anymore or unique; it was a little bit that way the first time we played,” he said. “Being at Texas A&M, we played them a lot. You get used to it.”
With a smile, he added, “I’d rather play them in a national championship game than a Sweet 16 game. But here we are, so we’ll play it.
“It is what it is.”
But maybe much more, perhaps in ways we won’t understand for years.