Ireland will always hold a special place for me - Turner
March 16, 2017
ALL ROADS lead to DCU on Saturday evening as home team DCU Saints prepare to welcome Pyrobel Killester in an end of season game that has special significance.
For many, it will be the last opportunity to see one of the greats play basketball on an Irish court, as Killester’s Jermaine Turner prepares for his final game before retiring. And what game could be more fitting, as he gears up to line out against a team with whom he previously enjoyed so many highlights.
We caught up with the man, the player and the legend earlier this week ahead of his upcoming swansong to talk about retirement, the past 17 years here on Irish shores and the next adventure that lies just around the corner.
A stalwart of the Irish basketball scene, Turner first arrived on the shores of the Emerald Isle back in 2000, and since then, has played basketball with Dungannon, Tralee, Ballina, Limerick, Tolka Rovers, UCD Marian, St Vincent’s, and most recently, Pyrobel Killester.
Indeed for younger fans, Jermaine has become synonymous with the orange and black strip of Killester and it was a special moment last Saturday evening as he bid farewell to the Killester faithful at their last home game.
“It’s kind of strange [to be retiring], but it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Turner began. “I’ve one more game left, so it really hasn’t hit me yet it’ll sound strange to you, but it probably won’t until September when I know I’m supposed to be in pre-season and then, I’m not.
“I’m leaving in April, I’m moving back to the States it’s been happening for the last couple of months, I’ve set myself up with a job over there so I’ll be back in the States in April and then my family will move over to me in the summer when my oldest finishes up school,” he explained, adding that he will be moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I came here back in 2000, and 17 years is a long time. The transition to moving back to the States has been in the process for a while now, but it’ll be strange for me, ‘cause once September rolls around, I’ll get that feeling that I’m supposed to be playing basketball. I’ll miss certain things in Ireland – certainly not the weather! - but I’ve forged some good relationships here, I’ve met some good people here and there are certain things I’ll definitely miss, but for the most part I’m looking forward to this new chapter, this new challenge in my life."
“There have been a lot of career highlights, as I’ve been playing here for a long time. The top highlight wasn’t in a Killester uniform actually, but my biggest accomplishment that I had here in Ireland was when we won the League in 2006 with Vincent’s because nobody expected us to win anything that year. It came out of nowhere. We went down to the Mardyke and we had to play the best team in the country that year and everyone said that they were going to clean the floor with us and we actually did the opposite to them and we won – that is actually my biggest accomplishment here in Ireland.
“A regret I have is probably after my first Cup win with Killester, going on to lose the second one to UCD Marian is probably the biggest regret I have. Not saying that Marian didn’t deserve it, but we didn’t take Marian seriously enough that year. They punished us for it I guess, and that’s my biggest regret.
"I’ve played with a lot of clubs over the years, starting off with Tyrone Towers in Dungannon and I guess you could say Killester has been the twilight of my career. Basketball will still be in my life in America. I’ll definitely be coaching, but as for playing – I think I will play a bit, not at the competitive level I’m playing at now but probably once a week going into a gym to run up and down with guys my age to see if I still can do it - more just for the love of the game.
“Just because I’m moving back to the States doesn’t mean that Ireland is not home. I consider Ireland to be my second home. I have two passports – I hold an American and Irish passport, so I have two homes. Ireland will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ll never forget my experiences here, it’s a wonderful place, and the reason why I kept coming back is that I adapted to the culture. A lot of people asked me why I kept going back to Ireland, they said I could make more money in other places, but for me it wasn’t about the money: it was about being comfortable and enjoying basketball and I had those two things here.”
Looking back over the years since Turner arrived on our shores, it’s hard to find a season where he hasn’t made an impression on the game here.
For current Killester Head Coach, Brian O’Malley, this weekend marks the end of an era and he reflects back to when he first met Jermaine in Ballina. Years later, Turner would coach O’Malley in Division One basketball, before the tables would turn and O’Malley took the helm of the Super League team and immediately knew who his first phone call would be to.
“I know Jermaine for years, back from when he played with Ballina. When Jermaine joined Killester - having been successful in a couple of other clubs and having spent some time in Spain and that - he was coaching the Division One team as well as playing. He coached me for three or four years playing Division One and was very successful in his playing career as well. He was Assistant Coach on the Premier League team and then he decided to come back in Johnny’s [Grennell] second year coaching to play. Then, when I was appointed, he was pretty much the first phone call I made to make sure we nailed down his services for as long as possible.
“The funny thing is, it’s hard to believe that with the kind of person Jermaine is, and the drive and passion he has, that he’s actually retiring. He keeps working so hard, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear, a couple of years down the line, that Jermaine is playing – maybe not Super League but playing at some level somewhere because he has such a passion for the game. You can see that in the guys that he’s worked with and mentored - Eoghain Kiernan is on the Irish national team now for example, and a large part of that is down to the work Jermaine has done, he has mentored Eoghain since the age of 16 – he’s 21 now,” he reflected.
“Jermaine has been the best American in the League or one of the best Americans in the League for the best part of two decades. When I took the job, people asked me was I going to be keeping Jermaine and I kind of laughed at them. You’re talking about a guy who’s a guaranteed 25 points and at least 15 rebounds and all the energy and all the effort – how would anybody in their right mind say no to that? The biggest thing you can say about Jermaine is that he’s a winner, everywhere he’s gone, he has been a winner. He has been a big influence on the club – the standard that he expects means that everybody has to match up to it and put in the hard work - he’s been a great leader for the guys."
"We can look back at games where Jermaine just basically said ‘we’re not losing today’ and 'we’re going to win' – you look at the Cup semi final this year, it was a fantastic performance, you look at last year, against Marian in UCD, Jermaine had 37 points and 22 rebounds. You look at games where we played Demons when Johnny was coaching, and Demons had gone unbeaten in the entire season, and Jermaine was the best player on the court that day – we lost by two in the end with a late tip in - but Jermaine did everything that was humanly possible to try and get the win against a team that could possibly be called the best team of the past 10 years.
“There’s so much you can say about Jermaine – the work he does running camps and his attitude towards player improvement. He immersed himself in the club: coaching men’s teams, ladies teams, underage teams – showing up to special events. He really has bought into being part of the club, which is a difficult thing to do when you’re a professional player.
“This weekend is a tough one, as anyone who knows Jermaine knows that his entire focus is on winning the game on Saturday, he wouldn’t let us make it into a victory parade or a swansong. Jermaine will be the first guy making sure that we’re doing the right things in practice and driving on and this weekend is no different for him. He wants to make sure that we finish the season the right way.
“From a personal point of view, we’ve had the safety blanket of knowing our American is one of the best - if not the best - in the League, and that’s going to be a challenge going forward. We’re not going to be able to replace the calibre of Jermaine – the total package that is Jermaine. We might get somebody as athletic, we might get somebody as driven to win, but it would be very difficult to get someone who has all of those facets that are Jermaine."
“This Saturday, I hope people come down to DCU as it’s the last time that they are going to be able to see one of the top five players who’s ever played in the country in action – so get down to DCU and enjoy the experience one last time. Killester Basketball Club would like to express our greatest thanks to long serving Jermaine Turner for everything he’s done for the club and wish him the best in his next venture,” he finished.
And as the clock ticks down towards Saturday night, there’s one thing that’s in no doubt – somewhere out there, Superman is wearing Jermaine Turner underpants.
America here he comes.
Basketball Ireland Men's Super League fixture:
Saturday, March 18th
DCU Saints v Pyrobel Killester, DCU Complex, 19:00;