NC State

Ralston Turner’s ‘funky’ jumper works for Wolfpack

N.C. State’s Ralston Turner (22) drills a 3-pointer as Pittsburgh’s Sheldon Jeter defends during the second half of the Wolfpack’s 68-50 victory at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Jan. 3.
N.C. State’s Ralston Turner (22) drills a 3-pointer as Pittsburgh’s Sheldon Jeter defends during the second half of the Wolfpack’s 68-50 victory at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Jan. 3. ehyman@newsobserver.com

It starts with an unusually aggressive jump. Then there’s a herky hitch, followed by an impossibly high release point.

And, the piece de resistance is the unpredictable spin.

Put it all together and you have what is uniquely Ralston Turner’s jump shot. And with the N.C. State senior guard, a shot is not just a shot.

“At this point, it’s part of who I am,” Turner said.

By his own description, Turner’s shot is “funky.” Unconventional and downright ugly are two more apt descriptions, which his teammates will freely share.

“We give him jokes,” junior guard Trevor Lacey said.

There’s more the quirky release of Reggie Miller than the textbook form of Ray Allen to Turner’s shot for sure, but that’s not what matters when the ball leaves his hands.

As Lacey, one of his best friends on the team, notes: “Hey, he makes it.”

No one in the ACC has made more 3-pointers (161) than Turner the past two seasons. Few have made as many big, or important shots, as Turner has since he reconnected with coach Mark Gottfried and transferred from LSU.

Lacey, a deft combo guard, drives the bus for the Wolfpack (19-12), which opens ACC tournament play with Pittsburgh on Wednesday, while superquick sophomore guard Cat Barber has emerged as a dynamic, playmaking threat. But it’s Turner, with his quirky shot and unassuming leadership who makes the Wolfpack such a dangerous threat this March.

“He’s all about us winning,” Lacey said. “It’s not a selfish thing. He knows this is his last year, and he wants to make it a memorable one.”

Turner, second on the team with a 13.4 scoring average, has already helped put the Wolfpack in position to reach the NCAA tournament for a fourth consecutive season.

The 6-foot-5 shooter from Muscle Shoals, Ala., has made 84 of 223 (37.6 percent) 3-point attempts this season and 161 of 430 (37.4 percent) in his two seasons at N.C. State. His total is one more than North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and eight more than Duke’s Quinn Cook.

His numbers probably would have been better this season if he didn’t have to deal with a nagging knee injury. Turner has been playing through pain and with what he describes as arthritis-like symptoms in his left knee.

He had a three-game stretch in December where he went 1 of 9 from 3-point range and then another three-game stretch in early February where he was 4 of 22. Gottfried said he thought Turner looked tired during the stretch. Even so, Turner has labored through pain and been a necessary complement to the playmaking skills of Lacey and Barber.

A quiet person

He has also helped settle an otherwise younger roster, which features many of the same parts from last year’s NCAA team but still had to adapt after losing three starters, including the ACC player of the year in T.J. Warren.

“He’s a quiet person, in general; he leads with his play,” Gottfried said. “The game’s really important to him. He practices as hard as anybody every day, and I think there’s leadership in that.”

Bum knee and all, Turner has found a way to have big games, like the career-high 33 points he scored against Tennessee on Dec. 17, and big moments.

His 3-pointer from the wing at UNC on Feb. 24, at 10:40 in the second half after UNC had made it a two-point game, might have been the biggest shot of the season. He finished with four 3-pointers and 14 points in the Wolfpack’s 58-46 win over the Tar Heels, its first in Chapel Hill since 2003. That win, along with a Jan. 11 home win over Duke, are two of the main reasons the Wolfpack enters the ACC tournament without do-or-die pressure for Selection Sunday.

His 21-point outburst in the second half of a 66-61 win at Clemson on March 3 is right up there, too, in season-saving moments. The Wolfpack trailed 30-24 early in the second half before Turner knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and got the team going.

“That’s what Ralston does,” Lacey said. “We can always count on him to hit a timely shot, especially when the rest of us can’t get it going.”

The shots will usually go in, just don’t expect them to be pretty. Gottfried is past the point of worrying about Turner’s delivery. Gottfried first saw Turner’s unique shot when Turner played AAU basketball with Gottfried’s oldest son, Brandon, in Alabama.

Gottfried was the coach at Alabama at the time. He had recruited Turner for the Crimson Tide but was working for ESPN by the time Turner ended up going to LSU out of high school.

When Gottfried got the N.C. State job, Turner was interested in a better fit for his shooting skills. Gottfried showed him 3-point specialist Scott Wood’s role, and Turner was sold.

He sat out the 2012-13 season, Wood’s last, and then stepped into his spot in the lineup. Gottfried even gave him Wood’s signature play, “corner.”

What Gottfried, himself a 3-point marksman in college, didn’t do is tinker with Turner’s mechanics.

“It’s one of those things where you just let it ride,” Gottfried said. “I’ve watched it a long time, and I’ve watched it go in a lot.”

Jump shooter

To the surprise of no one, Turner taught himself to shoot, so there is no one to blame for it. There is no book or instructional video that could have come up with that.

His form has evolved, he said, as he has gotten older. He was told to put the “jump” in jump shot when he got to LSU in 2010.

“That’s when I started jumping higher and this motion just came with it,” said Turner, who averaged 12.8 points as a freshman for the Tigers in 2010-11 and 9.0 as a sophomore the next season.

The jump itself is kind of startling, and once described by Barber as “if he’s looking down through the rim,” but the high release and the spin really make it a one-of-a-kind.

There’s almost a double-clutch, a noticeable hitch in Turner’s shot before he releases the ball. It’s all an attempt by Turner to get the ball as high as he can before he releases it.

“The ball has to be above my head,” Turner said. “When I’m shooting, I don’t even see it anymore. It’s just a feel.”

Knuckleball

And there’s the spin. A pure shooter like Chris Mullin would recoil at the sight of it. Knuckleball, screwball, “gyro” ball, it’s Phil Niekro, Fernando Valenzuela and Yu Darvish all rolled into one.

There’s a simple explanation for that, Turner said.

“It doesn’t matter how I catch it,” Turner said. “I just get it and shoot it. I don’t have to catch it on the ‘laces.’ If I lined it up, it would spin like any other shot.”

Fittingly, the shot Turner remembers most in his two seasons with the Wolfpack came last year in Greensboro. It was a 3-pointer to break a tie at 59 against Syracuse with 2:26 left in the quarterfinals of the 2014 ACC tournament.

Big shot in a big game, for sure. N.C. State never trailed after the 3 and went on to win 66-63. Without that win, N.C. State probably ends up in the NIT.

But what’s funny is the made basket was off an unintentional bank shot. Even after it went in, Turner threw his hands up and gave a “that’s my fault” kind of shrug.

Turner, who graduated in December, said he has thought about tweaking his shot but doesn’t think the results would be the same.

“For me to try to change it, it would be 10 times worse,” Turner said.

Gottfried wouldn’t want Turner to change anyway. He has gotten this far, and the Wolfpack will need his funky shot to push them to postseason success.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

No. 7 N.C. State vs. No. 10 Pittsburgh

When/where: 7 p.m., Greensboro Coliseum

TV/Radio: WRAL, 101.5-WRAL

Projected starting lineups

Pittsburgh (19-13)

G James Robinson 9.1 ppg, 5.1 apg

G Cameron Wright 8.8 ppg, 3.0 apg

F Sheldon Jeter 4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg

F Jamel Artis 13.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg

F Michael Young 13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg

N.C. State (19-12)

G Cat Barber 11.8 ppg, 3.8 apg

G Trevor Lacey 16.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg

G Ralston Turner 13.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg

F Lennard Freeman 3.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg

F Abdul-Malik Abu 5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Key theme

Let’s be honest here: We all kind of want to see N.C. State and Duke play on Thursday. The Wolfpack can’t afford to look past the Panthers. It would be a typical N.C. State result for that to happen, though.

The Panthers have lost three consecutive games, and lost by 18 to N.C. State in January, but have nothing to lose and are likely to play accordingly.

N.C. State needs to focus, as it has for much of the past three weeks, and not put the cart before the horse. Joe Giglio

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