Bill Carmody has been hard on Mike Turner in practice, urging him to improve. It's his challenge for the redshirt freshman to reach his potential.
"He's probably not that happy with me right now," Carmody said of Turner. "I think he could be pretty good, so I'm trying to get him. "
After spending a year on the bench with a redshirt, Turner will take on a tall task: becoming a center.
Turner, a product of University High School in Chicago, stands at just 6-foot-8, 215 pounds—not exactly a big man's frame. Northwestern will concede the size advantage for the athleticism and versatility Turner provides.
"It's a little bit of a mismatch with some of the larger centers in the league," offered Turner. "I have a mismatch, as well. I'm a little bit quicker and a little more athletic. I work with what I've got."
As a true freshman, Turner's number wasn't called, not with John Shurna occupying the job. Turner spent the season working to grow stronger while gaining valuable experience in practice. He served an important role on the scout team defense, allowing him to learn Northwestern's complex Princeton offense.
While Turner wasn't preparing to play in games, he embraced the challenge of improving.
"It was difficult," Turner admitted. "But I just tried to go into each practice trying to help my team do whatever I could—play scout team or defense—so [the starters] can run through the offense and get a good look for the games."
During the offseason, Turner committed himself to Northwestern's weight-training program, adding muscles to his slender frame. He gained a physical edge, in addition to valuable experience.
"Mike has come along very well for us," senior forward Drew Crawford said. "He had a good offseason and got a lot better. This year, he's just looking so much more comfortable on the court. He's got that year under his belt."
Now, Turner must serve an important role for Northwestern, battling as a big man underneath the hoop. In 2011, NU ranked 332nd out of 344 teams in team rebounding. Turner along with projected starting center Alex Olah will look to change that.
"I think that's one of the areas where we're trying to improve, especially from last year," said Turner. "Hopefully, I can try not to do too much; just help the guys around me and help the team win."
Turner has a lot on his plate, but his work ethic in practice proves he's ready for the challenge.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work down there, but that's something Mike's willing to give," said Crawford. "Along with a comfort level, he also is bringing more intensity to practice every day. That' something that's great to see, because he's going to need it."
Even if it's a tall task Turner faces, he is eager to take the floor with his teammates.
"I'm really excited," he said. "Finally, it's my chance to compete for minutes. It's looking good so far."