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Better as a Buckeye, struggling as a Sixer

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor

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As soon as Evan Turner gave the green light, a small flock of reporters circled around the Philadelphia 76ers guard.

Despite a 2-for-14 shooting performance in an 84-77 loss to New Orleans on Jan. 3, Turner was in good spirits in the locker room. He was comfortable with the presence of Ohio State media, in town to cover the Sugar Bowl.

After a few minutes of questions and answers, Turner gave a fist-pound to each reporter.

It was a rare moment of relaxation for the rookie, struggling to adapt to the nuances of professional basketball life.

Since the 76ers selected him with the No. 2 pick in June’s NBA draft, Turner has yet to unearth the success that helped him garner nearly every award in college basketball last season.

“Everything’s new: road trips, arenas, different players, how we’re going to defend people,” Turner said.

No longer does the 6-foot-7 Turner have the ball in his hands every possession, able to break down defenses littered with scholarship players half his size and walk-on scrubs with half his skill.

Instead, he’s trying to fit into a locker room with established veterans such as Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala and fit into a league full of millionaire athletes just as explosive and gifted as he is.

Turner has learned a few things.

NBA players are faster.

“The speed is so quick,” he said. “You can’t really crash the boards or hang around. You really have to get back because teams are scoring in two seconds.”

NBA players are taller.

“Just the length of players, players are so long,” Turner said. “A few times you might go in, and you might get welcomed to the league over and over again with a shot block. You have to get used to that.”

NBA players are flat-out better. Turner has been saddled with defensive assignments against All-Stars he dreamed of playing against growing up.

“Kobe was real real,” Turner gushed. “He hit some tough shots, and he’s definitely the best player in the world, in my opinion. I was able to go against Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul and other great wings.”

It’s been a rocky transition.

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In 35 games, the Chicago native has averaged 7.1 points per contest on just 39 percent shooting. His struggles led to a reduction in playing time in mid-December.

Philadelphia coach Doug Collins didn’t even play his 22-year-old rookie in two of the team’s games.

“I don’t really focus too much on how I’m shooting it. I just need to get my legs stronger and sometimes not get rushed and focus a little more,” Turner said. “But that stuff’s going to come. The more I hit shots, the more confidence I’ll have. That stuff’s coming. I’m definitely going to work on it every single day, but it’s coming.”

There have been bright spots: his 23-point effort in a 123-110 win at Phoenix on Dec. 29; his 19-point, 5-assist, 5-rebound performance Saturday against Detroit.

Perhaps Turner will be a late bloomer.

His numbers improved each season he sported scarlet and gray. As a freshman, he averaged 8.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists. By his junior year, he poured in 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists.

“I think I’ll go on the up-and-up, and once I get more experience and more acclimated,” Turner said, “everything will work out for the best.”

Former Buckeye teammate David Lighty said he expects Turner to blossom once he figures out what adjustments he must make.

“Once you get the hang of everything, it’s just a process,” Lighty said. “Evan had a transition coming from high school to college, and he really wasn’t doing what he was doing in high school and it’s going to be the same way once you get to the next level.”

When he reaches that comfort level, Turner will no longer need familiar faces in the media to provide him relief.

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