PITTSBURGH — It might have been a little more difficult for former LSU guard Ralston Turner to go against his old team in the NCAA tournament Thursday night if some of his old friends were playing across from him.
But even that couldn’t stop the emotions he felt when Turner, who transferred to North Carolina State after two seasons at LSU, found out his ninth-seeded Wolfpack and eighth-seeded Tigers would meet in an East regional second-round game.
“That was the place I started,” Turner said Wednesday afternoon. “It’ll be a place I never forget. So I can’t lie to you like no emotions popped up.”
Recruited by former LSU coach Trent Johnson, Turner averaged 12.3 and 9.2 points a game in 2011 and 2012, respectively, starting 59 of 60 games. But he made up his mind to transfer before coach Johnny Jones was hired to replace Johnson and landed with Jones’ old friend, Mark Gottfried.
Despite Jones’ best efforts to get him to stay, Turner packed his bags.
“It was very, very tough to make that decision,” Turner said. “When he (Jones) came in, he had a conversation with me. I thought he was a real good guy. … I actually liked him.
“When it all came down to it, it was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I don’t regret it.”
Gottfried and LSU
Gottfried has more than a few connections with the LSU basketball program, starting with former coach Dale Brown and Jones, and continuing with Turner, an AAU teammate of Gottfried’s son when he was the head coach at Alabama.
Gottfried and Jones have been friends for the better part of 25 years even though they didn’t play against each other on the basketball court. Jones tried to get Brown to hire Gottfried for the Tigers staff in the late 1980s, and Jones eventually coached one year on Gottfried’s Alabama staff in 2000-01.
“We have kind of always stayed in touch throughout the years,” Gottfried said of Jones, who joined Brown’s staff after his playing career at LSU. “Even though I never played for Dale Brown, he was like a kind of a second father, a father-figure coach out there, to me.
“Kind of through that, Johnny and I became friends. When he had the chance to go back to LSU, I was thrilled for him, because I knew deep in his heart, that’s where he wanted to be. He’s got a great love for LSU.”
The Tigers’ tandem
Despite playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference against North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse and Virginia, Gottfried said his team hasn’t come across a tandem as talented as LSU’s All-Southeastern Conference duo of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
“I think they’re very comfortable playing for Johnny in their system,” he said. “They’re getting the ball a lot more, in my opinion, here lately. They’ve been very effective. I think the change maybe in their lineup (at guard) probably helped both those inside guys a little bit more.”
“They’re going to be a handful for our guys. They’ve been pretty impressive as we’ve gotten to watch them a lot more (on tape).”
‘Ironing’ out the problem
Mickey said he’s been dealing with an iron deficiency that was discovered when he had some blood work done, which has caused him to fatigue more easily, although playing 34.8 minutes a game over 30 games can do that as well.
“It came back showing my iron was a little low,” he said. “So they had me on supplements to try to get it balanced.
“It definitely affected my energy level; I was getting tired a lot quicker than usual. I kind of knew something was wrong, that’s when they sent me to get the blood work.”
LSU vs. the field
The Tigers had a 6-1 record against the other 67 teams in the NCAA tournament field this season.
The defeated Ole Miss (twice), Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia and UAB. Their only loss came against top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky.
LSU and North Carolina State played three common opponents this season: Clemson, Tennessee and West Virginia.
LSU was 1-0 against West Virginia, 1-1 against Tennessee, and 0-1 against Clemson. N.C. State was 0-1 against West Virginia, 1-0 against Tennessee and 1-1 against Clemson.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.