On a Friday afternoon in August, Clyde Turner — one of the best basketball players to ever wear a University of Minnesota basketball uniform — was in a gymnasium during the final day of his annual basketball camp, standing in front of approximately 50 youngsters ages 11-18 in the East Phillips Community Center Camp in South Minneapolis.
“This is year 34,” Turner said with a smile on his face, referring to the age of his camp. ”It’s been quite a 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 Champagne (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.
“Tony Queen already had a camp in North Minneapolis,” he recalled. “So I started my camp on the South Side. This year we had camp in both areas.”
In addition to the East Phillips Community Center Camp, Turner’s camps were held the previous two weeks at Fairview Park Camp in North Minneapolis and Phillips Community Center Camp in South Minneapolis respectively.
While the camps stress fundamentals skills including shooting, dribbling, passing, defense footwork and rebounding, Turner 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’s 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.
Camp coaches have included former prep stars Leonard Johns (Minneapolis Patrick Henry), Kenisha Bell (Bloomington Kennedy), Grantham Gillard (Eden Prairie), Larry Burgess (Minneapolis North), Lamar Wright (Minneapolis Washburn), and Harrison Lucas (Osseo).
On this particular August day, the campers were sitting attentive and smiling during the awards ceremony. After its 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.”
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.