This profile was published in Kansas Alumni magazine in 2001.
Turgeon enjoys new hoops home in Kansas
When Mark Turgeon left Kansas eight years ago, he had no idea that the rest of the country didn’t share Kansans’ passion for basketball.
In his second season with Jacksonville State (Ala.), Turgeon took the team from an 8-18 record to a 17-11 record and had the Gamecocks playing for the Trans America Conference title on their home court. Less than half of the 5,500 seats were full.
Last spring, Turgeon returned to his native state to become the 25th men’s head coach at Wichita State University. It didn’t take him long to experience Kansans’ passion again.
Turgeon was surrounded by a sellout crowd of 10,559 when he coached the Shockers in their home-opener against Kansas State. Did we mention that WSU has had just two winn
ing seasons in the past 12 and had been picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference?
“I grew up loving Kansas basketball and what it stood for,” said Turgeon, a Topeka, Kan., native who played point guard for KU from 1984-87. “I left it and didn’t realize how much I truly cared about it until I left. I wanted to get back to a place where basketball truly was important to a lot of people.”
WSU went 9-20 this season, finishing ninth in the MVC. Yet, the team averaged 8,100 fans. Turgeon promises that fans haven’t seen his style of play yet; that’ll come as he gets players who fit his program. Helping him get the right players is top assistant coach Tad Boyle (‘85), who played for KU from 1981-85 and turned down the head coaching job at Jacksonville State to follow Turgeon.
Turgeon, 36, graduated with a bachelor of science degree in personnel administration in 1987. He stayed with the KU program until 1992 as an assistant to Larry Brown and eventually Roy Williams.
“I loved coaching him and enjoyed working with him as a GA,” said Brown, who told Turgeon, then a KU freshman, that he’d have a better chance getting paid to coach rather than play after college. “My admiration and respect for him has grown since he has been a head coach. That’s the neatest thing about coaching — watching one of your own grow as he has done.”
Turgeon calls his time away from Kansas a sabbatical. He left KU to follow former Jayhawk assistant Jerry Green to Oregon, coached one year under Brown with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, then took his first head coaching job at down-and-out Jacksonville State. WSU offered Turgeon a chance to return to Kansas after his second season at JSU.
“If I’d stayed at KU, my life would’ve been a lot easier than it’s been the last eight years,” Turgeon said. “I’d have won a heck of a lot more games, and I’d probably be turning down jobs. But I might be a more well-rounded coach for having left and experienced other coaches and other areas of the country.”
The KU connection helps him with recruiting. The players like to see his NCAA Final Four ring and the parents like to know that Turgeon shares Williams’ values. Turgeon says 85 to 90 percent of what he knows about running a basketball program came from Brown and Williams, but his style is his own and is still evolving.
“I’m very fortunate to have spent 10 years with Coach Brown and Coach Williams,” Turgeon said. “I was like a sponge during my time at KU.”