Russell Turner is a dreamer. He dreamt of leading UC-Irvine to its first NCAA tournament in school history.
In March, he saw that dream become a reality after winning the Big West Conference tournament. The Anteaters then nearly got past No. 4 Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, falling to the Cardinals 57-55.
The Anteaters won over a lot of people in their short stint in the Big Dance. It was a great step for the program, but it’s not enough. Turner’s dreams go beyond a quick dance in March. He dreams of one day leading the program to a Final Four.
"I don’t think we’re as far from the ability to think about that as others probably do," Turner said.
Well, someone is noticing the good work Turner’s doing at UCI, because he’s been the most coveted coach from the Big West Conference.
Turner was mentioned as a potential candidate for various coaching vacancies around the country. Last offseason, it was Rice University hot on his trails. This offseason, it was George Mason University, on an even greater scale, too.
There were reports Turner accepted the job in his home state, and an introductory press conference was imminent. It wasn’t tough to believe.
Turner hails from Virginia, a little over three hours south of the George Mason campus. The job would have afforded him the opportunity to go back home, and he would have taken over a program that has been to a Final Four within the last 10 years.
But Turner, who will be entering his sixth season as the Anteaters coach, soon dispelled any notions of him leaving UCI.
"Don’t believe everything you see on the internet," he said.
George Mason’s rise from the Colonial Athletic Association to the 2006 Final Four is the model Turner would like his UCI team to follow.
"I’d like for us to dream of that type of scenario here at Irvine," he said of George Mason’s Final Four run.
"For us to accomplish something like that would be near miraculous the way it was for George Mason but what is important for us here at Irvine is we continue to improve. If we steadily do that I think that we’ll change our goals gradually over time but hopefully to the point where it seems like it changes (extremely)."