Mark Story

Turner's career brings him to Pikeville with CBA's Miners

Wayne Turner is 32 now. His little girl, the one he named Velvelina in honor of his mom, is 6.

Other than three games with the Boston Celtics in 1999, the one-time University of Kentucky point guard has spent the past decade traversing the back roads (and foreign lands) of minor-league pro basketball.

At this point, the twisting hoops road is unlikely to lead back to the promised land.

For a journeyman point guard in his 30s — especially one who still has that funky-looking jump shot Turner had in the late 1990s glory days at UK — the odds of a call coming from the NBA are slimmer than Lindsay Lohan.

By most life measures, it's time for Turner to put the basketball down.

Except "I've been playing since I was 8 years old," the Boston product said Thursday. "I haven't stopped playing since. From when I was little, I always wanted to play basketball for my job. I still want to."

On Friday night, Turner will tip off another basketball season. This year, the bouncing ball has brought Wayne Turner back to the state where he is part of one of the golden eras of basketball history.

Turner will be the starting point guard for the East Kentucky Miners, the Continental Basketball Association team in Pikeville.

The Miners, a second-year franchise that plays in the 7,000-seat East Kentucky Exposition Center, hope having a former Kentucky Wildcats hoops hero will be a box-office boon.

"From what I can tell, people up here are excited," says Kevin Keathley, head coach and assistant general manager for the Miners.

"We've wanted a former UK player from the start. We're hoping that once word spreads and people in Eastern Kentucky realize they can see Wayne Turner play up close, they'll really turn out."

Turner's presence in the commonwealth might remind UK basketball fans of paradise lost. The guard's four years (1995-99) in Lexington were the modern golden age of Wildcats basketball.

He played on Kentucky teams that reached three-straight NCAA finals, captured two national titles and won a whopping 20 NCAA tournament games.

To put the latter in perspective, Kentucky has won 13 NCAA tourney contests so far in the 2000s.

Turner was no bit player in all the winning. He ended his UK career with 1,170 points; is fourth in school history in career assists (494); and remains the all-time Kentucky leader in steals (238).

Close your eyes, and you can still see the electric Turner jetting past Steve Wojciechowski again and again in the Cats' epic comeback victory over Duke in the 1998 NCAA South Region finals.

"When my agent called me to say I had an offer in Pikeville, one of the things I liked was that I would be playing again in a place where people knew me and remember what I was a part of," Turner said.

In Turner's nomadic post-UK basketball existence, that familiarity has mostly been absent.

Come up with any random group of initials, chances are they represent a league in which Turner has played.

He's been in the IBL, the IBA, the NABL as well as multiple stints in the CBA.

Turner even spent time as a member of the traveling hoops variety show that is the Harlem Globetrotters.

He's played in exotic locales — Spain, Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand.

And Turner's played in places that are less-than-exotic: Cincinnati, Fort Myers, Fla., Bismarck, N.D. and now Pikeville.

"There's a reason," Turner says, "that it's called Wayne's World."

At one point in his many travels, one of Turner's prized possessions, his 1998 NCAA championship ring, turned up missing.

Earlier this year, it wound up being advertised on eBay.

Many thought it was Turner selling a piece of his UK legacy.

"I would not do that," Turner said. "It was a period when I was bouncing around a lot and it got lost. I can't say it was stolen, I don't know that for sure, but it got lost.

"When I heard it was on eBay, I contacted the guy and tried to buy it back. Instead, he decided to put it in some kind of store of his. That's a big loss for me. We worked hard to have the right to wear those rings. I wouldn't sell that."

Playing minor-league basketball in Pikeville is light years away from Rupp Arena and NCAA championship rings.

The Miners open Friday night in Pittsburgh, then play their first home game Sunday against the Minot (N.D.) Skyrockets.

"You always have the dream of getting back to the NBA," Turner said. "You also have to be realistic. The NBA is always getting younger. I'm getting older.

"I'm here because I want to play as long as I can. And I still love it."