LOUISVILLE, Ky. —At this stage of the college basketball season, there is no need for formal introductions or elaborate research. Everybody pretty much knows everybody, and some of them know each other from way back. It’s a small world in The Big Dance.
When Maryland played Kansas in the Sweet 16 here late Thursday night, it was a reunion festival. Maryland’s Jake Layman and Jaylen Brantley played AAU ball in New England with Wayne Selden Jr., one of Kansas’ stars. Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was a teammate of Maryland big man Damonte Dodd at Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia.
And then there is Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who always has and always will have Kansas inscribed on his heart. Turgeon grew up in Topeka and realized his great dream by playing for the Jayhawks, joking that his recruiting to the school consisted of this: “I was down on my knees begging Coach [Larry] Brown to take me.”
Turgeon became the first Kansas player to make the NCAA Tournament in each of his four years. By the time he was done, the small point guard had been named captain and helped the team reach the Final Four. Among those who gave him direction was a Kansas assistant coach named Bill Self, who was at the head of the Jayhawks’ bench as head coach Thursday night. Small world indeed.
“Turg was a good player. He wasn’t very big, but he got all out of that 5-10, 160-pound frame that he possibly could,” Self said Wednesday. “I think Turg is a terrific coach. I think he’s an elite coach and certainly he’s got Maryland playing extremely, extremely well.”
As much as he was gratified about bringing the Terrapins to a regional semifinal for the first time in 13 years, Turgeon wished it was not against Kansas. “I’d rather play them in a national championship game than a Sweet 16 game, but here we are, so we’ll play it,” he said Wednesday. “The Kansas thing is not that weird to me anymore or unique. It was a little bit that way the first time we played. Being at Texas A&M, we played them a lot. You get used to it.”
Still, there is no denying the huge part Kansas has played in his life. He met his wife, Ann, on campus when he was a young assistant coach for Brown and she was the team manager.
He still roots for pro teams from that part of the world. “I grew up just a diehard Royals fan, Chiefs fan, Kansas fan. I literally can’t go to bed at night until I get a Royals score, unless they’re playing on the West Coast,” he said, adding that being at Game 7 of the 1985 World Series was one of his unforgettable sports moments.
“This year I kind of brainwashed my kids into being diehard Royals fans and we got to be there at Game 5 in New York. By the end of the game, we were in the front row by the dugout because the Mets fans started to leave,” he said. “It was a special night.”
Playing Kansas with an Elite Eight berth on the line was about as special a night as he could imagine. In the small world of college basketball, players on the opposition appreciated Turgeon’s feelings too.
“That’s different,” Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis said. “It just shows how KU basketball can be everywhere.”