SACRAMENTO — When Elston Turner first served as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings in the early 2000s, the team was winning consistently and made the NBA playoffs each of his years on the sidelines with then head coach Rick Adelman.

That era, 2000-2006, was considered the golden years for the Kings.

Turner left, but returned to Sacramento in 2016 after Dave Joerger got the head-coaching job.Things look much different now. Winning games is the premier goal, though Turner’s job, and that of the rest of the coaching staff, is to develop a group of young athletes for the betterment of the future.

It’s not a simple task, but a necessary one based on the talent the Kings organization has acquired in the last three years. While the team was 20-44 as of March 7, Turner says he’s content with the process. No one ever said it would be easy.

“I’m enjoying it,” Turner told The OBSERVER. “Occupation-wise it takes some getting use to. I mean, I went 14 straight years of being on winning teams and making the playoffs. But the good thing is that the rebuilding part is challenging us as coaches and I’m fine with it. It just takes time. Now stacking up all these losses, no, I’ll never get used to that.”

The main challenge, as it should be, is grooming the younger players. The Kings’ roster features seven core players with two years of NBA experience or less — five of them being rookies. It’s a special situation, one that is unique to Turner. His experience is helping the younger players learn how to be professional at all times.

“When you’re working with young players you can’t take anything for granted. That’s on the court and off the court,” Turner said. “They have to learn to get to places on time, discipline themselves to put time into their craft outside of practice, and watch film. It’s all the stuff that professionals do. You’ve got to teach them that. It’s not just the two hours at practice. This is a lifestyle,” he added.

Through the course of the 2017-18 season, Turner said rookies De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Frank Mason III, Harry Giles III, and Bogdan Bogdanovic have been progressing well. Second-year players Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere are filling out, too.

Fox and Jackson were familiar with Turner before they touched down in Sacramento last summer. The rookies are from Houston where “E.T.,” as they call him, spent four years as an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets. Turner’s son Elston Jr. also played his last two collegiate years for Texas A&M.

Fox, 20, and Jackson, who will be 23 on March 28, like the fact that Turner played in the NBA, starting with the Dallas Mavericks when he was drafted in the second round out of the University of Mississippi in 1981. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Knoxville, Tenn., playednine years in the league.

“He’s been a great coach,” Jackson said. “It definitely has been good. He’s been very encouraging in helping us through the process. He’s from my hometown, I know he played in the SEC (Southeastern Conference), and I know he’s a genuine guy,” the young forward added.

The rookies also quickly found out that Turner could fill in for Joerger and deploy the head coach’s instructions. When Joerger fell to one knee due to a dizzy spell while the Kings played the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 28, Turner was on the sideline and grabbed him before he hit the floor.

From there, Turner assumed the head-coaching duties when Joerger headed to the locker room. Joerger was unable to coach the next game against the New Orleans Pelicans; the Kings won both games under Turner’s leadership. “It was like listening to Joerger (on the sideline),” Fox said of Turner’s interim presence on the sideline for both games.

“He didn’t try to do anything different that would drastically change the team. He’s been under Joerger for a while. So he just tried to do what he could do to get us a win.”

Turner credits Joerger’s system for putting the team in a position to win without him.

“The way the guys played and the chemistry on the team are the results of what Dave has done,” Turner said. “He really has the guys working, playing hard, and interacting during the games. It’s the same way in our practices. If
you come to our practices you’d think we were in first place.”

When Turner accepted Joerger’s invitation to serve as his lead assistant on June 3, 2016, he and his wife Louise pretty much returned to their previous living arrangements in the city of Roseville. They moved to the same the area in which they resided during Turner’s first six years with the team.

The homecoming consisted of neighbors providing “cookies, pies, and welcome back this and welcome back that,” Turner said. When the Turners are out and about at local restaurants people from the “old days” would remember them and their children and call them by their names.

“I’m talking about 10 years ago and people talk to us like we were only gone a week,” Turner said. “I’m just loving it. On my down time I try to take advantage of the area and go to Lake Tahoe or something. But I just keep in my mind how the city and fans were when we were rolling. I’ve had my best basketball years of coaching in Sacramento.”

Turner said the city’s and fans’ support is still there. “It’s going to take a little time, but the Kings are going to have to do their part to get this thing off the ground,” Turner said.

“They are passionate about this whole Sacramento Kings thing,” Turner said of the fans. “We can see success in the future. But right now, this is fun to be a part of. This is a hell of a place to play as well as coach.”
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By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer