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7 Mar 2018

AAU Assistant Director of Basketball Greg Turner Reflects on 1984 NCAA Tournament

AAU Assistant Director of Basketball Greg Turner Reflects on 1984 NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tips off next week with the first round of game action. Millions of eyes will be glued to their television sets, hoping their bracket champion is crowned the ultimate victor on April 2 in San Antonio.

In the lead up to tournament time, millions of viewers tune in to ESPN Classic for reruns of some of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history: Christian Laettner’s heroics in the 1992 East Regional Final; Jim Valvano and N.C. State’s 1983 NCAA Championship; George Mason’s unexpected trip to the Final Four in 2004; Kris Jenkins’s 2016 buzzer-beater to lift Villanova over North Carolina; and many others.

One game, though, will be of particular interest to AAU Assistant Director of Basketball Greg Turner.

“Every year I get a text or a call from someone saying they saw me on TV,” Turner said. “And every time I watch it, I think the outcome is going to be different.”

It was 1984. Coach Sonny Smith had led the Auburn Tigers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. Led by co-captain Turner and future NBA stars Chuck Person and Charles Barkley, the Tigers entered the tournament 20-10 and were coming off a buzzer-beater loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship.

A five-seed in the East, Auburn was a heavy favorite against the 12-seed Richmond Spiders in Charlotte, N.C.

“We were a higher seed but, really, we had no clue going in to that game,” Turner said. “There was no Selection Sunday or any of the media spectacle you see today. We just showed up and played.”

Johnny Newman, Bill Flye and the Spiders ripped off a 39-point first half to jump out to a 17-point lead over the Tigers. But the Tigers clawed back – Barkley turned in a monster performance with 23 points and 17 rebounds while Turner, a 6-feet-7-inch senior, posted 12 points, good for second high honor on the team in the loss.

All told, the deficit was too much to overcome. Auburn fell just short and lost by one point, failing to advance in their first taste of March Madness.

“All we had to do was throw the ball up to Charles [Barkley],” Turned said. “I don’t know why we didn’t just do that.”

It was a heartbreaking defeat in what would be Turner’s last collegiate game – and Barkley’s, too, for the matter. He was drafted in the ninth round by the Sacramento Kings and spent time playing professionally in Argentina and Australia. He has gone on to enjoy a successful career in sports management with two Division I conference offices, the NCAA, iHoops and now the AAU.

Still, the anguish of what might have been had they just fed Barkley against Richmond still exists. As does the torment of Kenny Walker’s buzzer-beater that bounced in at the SEC Championship.

For now, though, Turner reflects on his Auburn basketball career – and that heartbreaking defeat – rather fondly: “At first, I think we all kind of thought ‘We struggled for four years for this?’ Then you look back at your body of work and think maybe, even for just a moment in time, you changed the way a program was viewed, especially for future basketball athletes. Auburn has been and always will be a football school, but maybe it was a basketball school in that moment.”

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