GEORGETOWN — The Georgetown Tigers, led by their point guard Jerry Turner, were poised to win the NAIA basketball championship last March.
The undefeated Tigers, top-ranked and top-seeded, were ready to defeat Mountain State in the semifinals and then win the national title in the finals the next night.
"We felt we had a great chance of winning," said Turner, a senior who will lead Georgetown into its season opener against visiting Ohio State-Mansfield at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Back "home" in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, the Tigers captured their first three games to reach the semifinals.
"We came out to start the Mountain State game, and we were not the same from that moment to the end of the game," Turner recalled. "We came out sluggish. Nobody was comfortable. We weren't the same bunch of guys."
Mountain State won 78-65, the third time the West Virginia school had eliminated the Tigers in the NAIA semis since 2003.
To change that history, Georgetown must improve "every single day," according to Turner. "Once we figure that out, we'll be good."
Of course, Georgetown will be good. The Tigers always are.
Georgetown has reached the NAIA Tournament 27 times, 17 in a row, and made the semifinals 11 times in the marathon 32-team national tournament.
Turner has found his niche after a circuitous journey that led from his home in Elizabethtown to a pair of junior colleges, with one year away from basketball, and now to Georgetown.
When Turner decided to play again, Josh Taylor, a high school teammate, was at Georgetown. A childhood friend and high school rival, Demetrius Guions, also was a Tiger. Guions and North Hardin twice defeated Turner and Elizabethtown in the 5th Region finals.
Despite the possibility of playing for NCAA Division I Chicago State or Illinois State, Turner chose Georgetown, thanks in part to the recruiting efforts of assistant coach K.C. Goodin.
"I definitely wanted to come to a winning program," Turner said. "I also liked the opportunity to come in and play right away. Comfort was a big thing for me."
Turner started his junior year slowly but picked up his game in the second half of the season. He is fast and likes to pass first and shoot second. He also is a good defensive player.
"This year, I'll have to be a lot better from the start to the end," he said. "I still get impatient with myself and feel I should be better."
Georgetown Coach Happy Osborne sees a different player in Turner.
"I've had campus security call me at 1, 2 a.m., telling me Jerry's in the gym," Osborne said. "He loves basketball, and he'll work out the night before.
"What separates Jerry is that he has talent and a strong work ethic. He has the determination to win. He wills himself to be good."