Former NBA, UK centre Mel Turpin commits suicide

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Former NBA, UK centre Mel Turpin commits suicide

Postby rlee » Fri Jul 09, 2010 1:13 am

Former NBA, UK centre Mel Turpin commits suicide in Lexington

By The Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mel Turpin, former NBA player an All-American Kentucky centre, committed suicide Thursday, authorities said. He was 49.

Police and the coroner were called to his North Lexington house Thursday afternoon on a personal injury call. They found Turpin dead.

Coroner Gary Ginn says that Turpin had committed suicide, but would not say how. He also would not say whether Turpin left behind a suicide note.

Margaret Burrus, his sister, tearfully told reporters outside her home that her brother was diabetic and trying to keep it under control.

"I didn't know he was depressed or anything," she said. "I would have never said that he would have done this."

Turpin was the youngest sibling among six, Burrus said. Just two are still living.

"We had a big family and it's now whittling away," she said.

Burrus said Turpin's wife had a heart condition and authorities said she was not at home at the time of the death.

Neighbour Amanda McFadden said Turpin always seemed happy.

"He never looked upset. He kept a smile on his face, just a good person," she said.

The six-foot-11 Turpin, dubbed "The Big Dipper," was an All-Southeastern Conference player for the Wildcats from 1980-84. He led Kentucky to the SEC championship in 1984.

The centre helped lead the Wildcats to three consecutive regular-season SEC titles. He averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game in 1983-84 and shot 74.5 per cent from the field.

Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky athletics director, said school supporters "will forever remember Melvin and all his contributions to our basketball program."

Current coach John Calipari expressed his sympathy to Turpin's family and said he is praying "for their strength during this time of grief."

Turpin was the sixth player selected in the 1984 NBA draft that included Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, but never had the NBA success of those future stars.

Turpin was picked by the Washington Bullets, then traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His best season was 1985-86 when he averaged 13.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but he was out of the league four years later.
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Reflections on Turpin

Postby rlee » Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:34 am

By Rick Bozich
Louisville Courier-Journal

Dirk Minniefield understands the emotions and anxieties that can quietly but persistently percolate inside an athlete when he returns home after the cheering has stopped and the basketball has been put away.

The odd looks. The awkward questions. The suspicions that some people who once adored you have reclassified you as a failure.

"At one time you were a celebrity, a pro basketball player, a star," Minniefield said. "Now people are asking, 'What happened to you? Why are you working in that job?'

"It can create issues and feelings of worthlessness. It's difficult, especially in your hometown."

Minniefield understands those issues because for the past 18 years, he has worked as a counselor in the NBA Player Assistance Program. He also discussed them with his boyhood friend, Melvin Turpin, who sometimes told Minniefield that people wondered how he could enjoy his second career as a security guard as much as he enjoyed his five seasons in the NBA.

On Thursday evening, Minniefield received the jarring news that Turpin had died of a self-inflicted gunshot in Lexington, the town where Turpin had played at Bryan Station High School. Minniefield had played at rival Lafayette and the two had played together for three seasons at the University of Kentucky. Born 20 days apart, Turpin, like Minniefield, was 49.

Minniefield cried. He cried again on Friday -- and then wished that his friend had told him if something was troubling him.

"I would have traveled there in a second," said Minniefield, who lives in suburban Houston. "A second. That was rough news to take. It really shook me up.

"It's sad. This didn't happen 2,000 miles from where he grew up. It happened in our hometown. The world is a lonely place when somebody commits suicide."

We don't know what thoughts were going through Turpin's mind.

However, Minniefield said that Turpin had told him several times that it had been difficult returning to their hometown as a former All-America center whose post-basketball career was as a security guard, including time Turpin spent as a prison guard in Illinois. That's not the life some expect from a guy taken three picks after Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft.

"It can be little things," Minniefield said. "Instead of somebody asking you how you are doing, they might ask you, 'What are you doing?'

"As an athlete you feel like you have to tell people about a job that they think is below you. Turp would say, 'Why do I feel like I have to explain parts of my life that you feel are unacceptable to you?' That's how it would come across."

The fiercely protective friendship between Minniefield and Turpin was formed when they were 10 years old, Turpin growing up on the west side of Lexington, Minniefield on the south side, two guys looking out for each other while also looking for the best pick-up games they could find.

They played together against Indiana on the 1979 Kentucky high school all-star team. Turpin was 6feet11. While staying at the Executive West hotel, he bounced off the diving board into a pool of water only nine feet deep, and then staggered to the ladder. Waiting there was Minniefield, laughing.

"I told Turp he had to cut that out real quick and find something else to do," Minniefield said.

They were teammates at UK from 1980 to '83, when Kentucky was collecting the finest recruits in the game under coach Joe B. Hall. Their final game as Wildcats together was Kentucky's epic, 80-68 overtime loss to the University of Louisville in the Dream Game, the 1983 NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional final in Knoxville, Tenn. Turpin played one more season at Kentucky. He finished his college career with 1,509 points, leading the Wildcats to the 1984 Final Four and earning the sixth spot in the 1984 draft.

Minniefield and Turpin reunited a final time with the Cleveland Cavaliers from October 1985 through December 1986. Turpin insisted Minniefield live at his house with his wife and infant son until Dirk secured an apartment.

"That's the kind of guy Turp was," Minniefield said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back, and you wouldn't even have to ask him for it."

All those days together on the Lexington playgrounds, inside Rupp Arena and in the NBA forged a formidable bond. Minniefield was out of the NBA in 1988, unable to overcome a substance-abuse problem.

Turpin followed two years later. Weight was his issue. At UK, Hall assigned a student manager the task of stopping Turpin's late-night fast-food runs. It worked. On draft night, Turpin was listed at 240 pounds, 20 fewer than Charles Barkley, who was only 6-6 and was taken fifth.

In the NBA, Turpin grew to more than 300 pounds. That inspired the nickname "Dinner Bell Mel" and led the Cavaliers to hold back part of his $400,000 salary until he reduced his percentage of body fat to less than 10 percent.

Although Turpin usually tolerated the cracks about his size, he also privately bristled to friends such as Minniefield.

It was a nickname he was never able to shake. When questions were raised about the weight of UK freshman DeMarcus Cousins before the NBA draft last month, some analysts compared Cousins' situation to Turpin's.

"Turp didn't like being called, 'Dinner Bell Mel,'" Minniefield said. "Who would? He was sensitive to it."

Once, Minniefield said he summoned a writer who had repeatedly used the phrase to his locker. He asked him to stop.

"I didn't think it was fair to Turp," he said. "Melvin was misunderstood. I would work with him to try to control his weight. And he would do the work.

"But it wasn't so much that Melvin couldn't control his weight, he just liked to do what he liked to do. We'd have a great workout together, and then he'd say, 'Let's go get something to eat.' Turp didn't mean no harm. He'd just want to have some fun."

Minniefield, who said he has been clean for 20 years, said that he and Turpin talked regularly, the last time about a month ago.

If Turpin was depressed , Minniefield could not sense it. Neither could Hall, his former coach, nor Rosalind Turpin, Melvin's niece. Hall saw Turpin at breakfast in Lexington several weeks ago.

"He was just entertaining everybody and was outgoing like he always is," Hall said on his radio show Friday morning. "But Melvin could always have a brooding side to him, but you could always bring him out of it.

"That's what I regret, that somebody didn't notice his mood swing and let people know and get him some help in whatever he was facing."

"He wasn't sad. He wasn't depressed," Rosalind Turpin said. "People saw him the day of, and people saw him the day before. Then all of a sudden, this happened. It's just hard to believe. He was a good man."

Turpin was battling diabetes. Kerry, his second wife, is recovering from a stroke at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington.

Minniefield said that Turpin's finances were in order even though his five-season NBA career concluded in 1990. He said Turpin's agent had negotiated a deferred-money clause in his final contract that was scheduled to provide a fresh cash flow in 2013. His NBA pension was also scheduled to begin soon, according to Hall. He had returned to Lexington, the place that he and Minniefield had once ruled.

"Turp was a great guy, a great friend," Minniefield said. "But this is all just very sad."
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Mel Turpin's son to attend Florida State

Postby rlee » Sat Sep 25, 2010 4:49 am

By Jim Benson
pantagraph.com

LINCOLN — Kiel Turpin’s meteoric rise on the basketball court during the last year has determined where his future is headed.

That also means a trip into the past. Turpin is ready to embrace that, too.

The 6-foot-11 Turpin, a Normal Community West High School graduate who led Lincoln College to the Division II national junior college title as a freshman last season, announced last week he will sign with Florida State in November. There he will play for Leonard Hamilton, who happened to be an assistant coach at Kentucky when Turpin’s late father, Mel, played for the Wildcats from 1980-84 before a five-year NBA career.

“Besides looking at basketball and academics, that was probably the major thing for me,” said Turpin, who also considered Southern California and Alabama. “I wanted to go somewhere where someone knows my history and will have experience with me personally.”

Turpin said he didn’t have a relationship with his father for many years, last talking to him in the fourth grade. Mel Turpin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July.

While attending his father’s funeral, Kiel Turpin said he met several family members he didn’t know. He also got a chance to talk with many of Mel Turpin’s former Kentucky teammates.

“They told me what type of person he was and why everyone loved him,” he said. “A major thing for me was for him to see me play. They said now that he’s gone he can watch over me on the basketball court.”

About the last place anyone, including Kiel Turpin, thought he would be playing was the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Turpin enjoyed a decent, but hardly spectacular, career with Normal West. After growing six inches between his junior and senior seasons, Turpin made 61 of 100 field goal attempts as a senior for the Wildcats as his skills started catching up with his body. Loyola was the only Division I program to show any interest, but as a walk-on without a scholarship.

Lincoln College coach Kirk Whiteman wanted Turpin, but also wanted to find out something.

“When Kiel was here I told him I had one question: Do you want to play basketball? Just because you’re tall you don’t have to play basketball,” said Whiteman. “He said, ‘Coach, that’s all I think about. I’ve grown so fast and haven’t had the opportunity.’ ”

Whiteman told Turpin he might redshirt his first year. But the Lynx coach saw enough in preseason practices to decide Turpin would get some playing time.

“We said we’re going to play you and take our lumps,” said Whiteman. “After the nonconference (games) I told the coaching staff lets throw him in there (as a starter).”

Turpin immediately responded with 22 points and eight rebounds against Danville.

“He just outran kids down the court,” said Whiteman.

Turpin saved his best for the end. He averaged 16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks in four games during the national tournament, earning most valuable player honors in lifting the Lynx to their first national title.

Suddenly, Turpin’s phone started ringing from big-time Division I programs.

“When I was in high school I thought about college basketball, but I didn’t think it was attainable,” said Turpin. “I was thinking more about studying this or that so I should work harder in school and academics. After talking to Coach Whiteman he gave me my big break.”

Lincoln College had a big body inside last season in 6-8, 280-pound Chris Ware. He has graduated, so Turpin will be used more in the post this season. Turpin has added 30 pounds since last season ended, getting up to 230.

“I would like to see him be a dominant force on the low block and deal with the pounding,” said Whiteman, whose team begins practice next Friday. “That will help with his balance at the next level. That’s a whole another ball game where he’s going.”

Turpin’s family, including his mother, Lisa Nichols, can’t believe how far he has come so quickly.

“My mom talks about it all the time how she’s shocked, surprised and all that stuff,” he said.

“It takes a lot of character and someone wanting to be good,” said Whiteman. “He still has a long way to go, but you define success as people wanting to do it.”

Kiel Turpin has seen his father in clips on YouTube, including Michael Jordan dunking over him when he was with the Utah Jazz in 1988. There were highlights shown at Mel Turpin’s funeral, too.

“Coach Hamilton said he is going to try and get some game films so I can see him actually play,” said Kiel Turpin. “He said he was phenomenal in college.”
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Postby Jon Scott » Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:50 pm

Melvin Turpin was indeed a great college player. He was a tremendously efficient offensive player in the paint with a smooth jump shot. He also was, by all accounts, an extremely friendly and likeable person.

Those who only follow pro sports may not know this but when he came to Kentucky, he was considered too skinny. Unfortunately weight control was his toughest obstacle. It was a major issue late in his college career but was at least managed. Once he entered the pros, it became unmanageable.

In retrospect, he should have had a personal chef/nutritional advisor etc. preparing his meals and watching what he ate (rather than only his wife who reportedly wasn't doing him any favors in the cooking department) but that was not realized until it was too late in his career. I think today teams are much better prepared to monitor and intervene if necessary if athletes don't stay in shape or maintain their weight.

As far as Kiel, he too seems to be following in his father's footsteps, at least in terms of his growth spurt and being extremely skinny at this point of his life. Hopefully he won't repeat some of the mistakes Melvin made.

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Postby Jerry11 » Sun Jan 30, 2011 1:36 pm

I was sad to hear this. Turpin was a good guy and a fine player. I know he took a lot of ribbing in Cleveland, ' Dinner Bell Mel ' they called him.
In a better situation, he might have found a more rewarding career, and then something after his career as well. 49 is young, you hate hearing about something like this.
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