College Sports

Patrick Reusse: Turner’s lasting legacy came from mentoring youth in Minneapolis

Ben Johnson still has the trophy earned in the early 1990s. It came from the Clyde Turner Basketball Education Development camp that was an annual summer event in south Minneapolis.

"I was named as the 'outstanding shooter' in Clyde's camp,'' Johnson said Tuesday. "My jumper must've been falling because there were some outstanding young players that week.''

Turner came from Champaign, Ill., and was a star at nearby Robert Morris Junior College. He was recruited to the Gophers by new coach Bill Musselman for the 1971-72 season, along with two other JUCO standouts — Ron Behagen and Bobby Nix.

The brawl with Ohio State on Jan. 25, 1972, put a scarlet letter on that team, even as it won the Gophers' first Big Ten title in 25 years. It also produced a few remarkable Minnesota transplants.

Turner would be at the top of the list, with his decades of work with city youth — three weeks in the summer with the camp, and well beyond that as a social worker, with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, with the PACE Foundation for children, etc.

Charles Hallman, teacher, coach, columnist for the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder, 2022 inductee into the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame, was an organizer with those camps, and Turner's close friend for decades.

He was among a fair-sized collection of people who visited Turner on Monday to say goodbye. Clyde died early Tuesday morning, from cancer and other issues, at age 70.

"Clyde was a huge believer in second chances,'' Hallman said. "A kid would mess up and he would say, 'I think he can be a good kid. We're going to give him another chance.'"

Hallman laughed and said: "But a third chance? Nope. A kid had to take advantage of the second chance."

Turner wasn't a kid, he was a young man, but he seized a second chance to become an under-the-radar hero in the same adopted hometown where his team, the 1971-72 Gophers, had been deemed villainous.

The brawl at Williams Arena vs. Ohio State became a national scandal. The flames for this were fanned in major outlets, none more so than then-powerful Sports Illustrated.

Turner was a secondary figure in that brawl. His friend Corky Taylor was an igniter, along with Behagen. Corky also settled in Minneapolis and spent decades mentoring youngsters before his death in 2012.

It was reported then that Taylor and Luke Witte, the Ohio State star and the Gophers' initial target in the brawl, had met and become friends.

"Corky got Clyde to go along for the first meeting," Hallman said. "And Clyde told me, 'Luke, Corky and me … the three of us shared our souls and we were able to bury it.'"

The Turner day camps started in the mid-'80s and lasted through 2019, before being stopped by the pandemic and then Clyde's ill health. There were also weeklong stayover camps that were held at Lake Sylvia in Annandale through 1995.

Tara Starks, now the coach for girls' basketball at Hopkins, was among the first girls to participate in Turner's camp. She also was among his visitors on Monday.

"Clyde was a father figure to me," Starks said. "I had a father, but I had another one with Clyde — another male role model. Two years ago, I applied for the Hopkins job, and asked Clyde to write a recommendation letter, and it was done … right then.

"He was a figure of comfort for me. And I was talking to my daughter, Tee Tee, this morning. She was upset, but she also put it best about Clyde: 'He just had that grandfather vibe.'"

Hallman said that went way back to when Tara was working camps and other jobs, and she brought Tee Tee with her.

"We had Tee Tee out there going through drills at age 6, two years younger than our limit,'' he said. "I always tell Tara, 'Clyde was your free babysitter.'"

This season was the 50th anniversary for the 1972 champions, where Clyde was a standout forward — "Bald Bomber'' to many, for his early loss of hair and ability to fire away from distance at 6-7.

There was no public honor here to mark that anniversary, but most of the members — including Dave Winfield, Jim Brewer, etc. — came to town a few weeks ago and joined in a celebration dinner at J.D. Hoyt's.

Pat Montague, manager and an owner at Hoyt's, knew virtually all of them from Cajun chops served in past. "Clyde wasn't doing well, and he was here for a little over an hour, but, man, those guys were happy to see him,'' Montague said. "And the stories that night … the reunion should've been on TV."

Clyde's attitude about basketball, kids and life might be best told in a photo that he kept framed and prominently displayed for 30 years. It was in the Star Tribune in 1991 and showed Kolliepaye Kpowulu, 12, blowing past Turner for a layup during a camp session at Washburn High School.

"We'd say, 'That kid went by you like he was Michael Jordan,' '' Hallman said, "and Clyde would just break out a big smile."

©2022 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published August 9, 2022 6:52 PM.

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