Photo by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald Clyde Turner
It’s hard to believe that Clyde Turner is gone.
Turner, one of the best basketball players to ever wear a University of Minnesota basketball uniform who later became a mentor to countless youth, died last week after a brief illness at the age of 70.
The last time I saw him, he was doing what he loved best. He was running his basketball camp.
On that Friday in August 2019, Turner was in a gymnasium during the final day of his annual basketball camp, standing in front of approximately 50 youngsters ages 11-18 at the East Phillips Community Center Camp in South Minneapolis.
“It’s year 34 of the camp,” Turner said at the time, smiling. “It’s been quite the journey.”
It was a journey that might not have happened if Turner’s professional career hadn’t taken an unexpected turn. “I thought I would play in the NBA,” he said. “But I got cut.”
There was good reason to believe Turner would make it to the NBA. He was a 6’7” all-state forward for the boys’ basketball team at Champaign (Illinois) Central in 1969, a National Junior College All-American at Robert Morris Junior College (Illinois) in 1971, a two-time All Big Ten performer at the University of Minnesota in 1972 and 1973, and a third-round draft choice of the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA.
After being cut, Turner played professionally in Europe before returning to the Twin Cities, where he found himself at a crossroads in 1985. “I wanted to do something but didn’t know what,” he said. “I knew I wanted to empower our youth. I knew I wanted to give back.”
Turner decided to start a free basketball camp for inner-city youth in South Minneapolis, and the Clyde Turner Basketball Camp was born.
While the camps stress fundamentals skills including shooting, dribbling, passing, defense footwork, and rebounding, gymnasts stressed that there’s more to it than that.
“It’s also about competition, teamwork, and opportunity,” he said with emphasis. “We want to prepare them for life as well.”
One thing is certain: Turner’s camps have helped develop some of the state’s top basketball players.
Former campers include Benilde St. Margaret and Augsburg University star Devean George, a member of the 2000, 2001, and 2002 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers; Minneapolis North graduate Khalid El-Amin, who won an NCAA title at the University of Connecticut in 1999; former Holy Angels standout Troy Bell, who became an All-American at Boston College after playing there from 1999-2003; and Robert Mestas, who starred at the University of Miami-Ohio from 1995-2000 after an outstanding prep career at Minneapolis Roosevelt.
Tamara Moore went on to lead Minneapolis North to the 1998 Class 3A championship before becoming a University of Wisconsin Hall of Famer, WNBA player, and collegiate coach; Mauri Horton went on to become a member of two Minneapolis North 3A state championship teams in 1998 and 1999, and play in the 2000 NCAA Final Four for of Rutgers University; and former Minneapolis North standout Tara Starks recently led Hopkins to the Class 4A state crown last March.
On this particular August day, the campers were sitting attentively and smiling during the awards ceremony. After his conclusion, Turner, beaming with pride, indicated he has no intentions of slowing down.
“After serving over 14,000 boys and girls over the years, I definitely want to keep this going,” he said smiling. “I want to do it for our youth. It’s all about them.”
Three years after making that statement, the gentle giant who inspired so many young people is gone but his impact remains.
Charles Hallman, who worked at Turner’s camp for decades, reflected on his close friend’s desire to help others: “It was always more than about basketball with Clyde,” Hallman said, “it was also about preparing kids for the future.
The longtime Minneapolis South boys’ basketball assistant and MSR Hall of Fame columnist wasn’t finished. “Clyde lived as a Gopher and lived as a youth advocate,” he said. “His life as youth advocate was more impactful.”
dr Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.