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Courtesy: Florida A&M Sports Information
Delon Turner Takes Unique Path To Graduation
By: Florida A&M Sports Information  
Delon Turner was best known by Rattler fans as the big man who scored and rebounded relentlessly for the Rattler basketball team from 1990-1993. "Baby Barkley," as popular ESPN analyst Dick Vitale nicknamed him during a game played on ESPN, left FAMU as the second-leading scorer (1,795 points, 16.8 ppg.) and the third-leading rebounder (974, 9.1 rpg) in the school's history. Since he played as a true freshman, he left Florida A&M University (FAMU) to play professional basketball essentially after three-and-a-half years.

On Saturday, April 28, 2012, Turner walked across the stage during FAMU's Spring Commencement Ceremony to receive his bachelor's degree in Agri-Business. Between the time he initially left school at FAMU and his walk across the stage, Turner lived a full life, but it was incomplete.

Turner was a highly-touted basketball player from Miami Carol City High School. He was an All-City selection, as his team won the state championship his senior year. The University of Colorado, University of Miami and other big schools offered him scholarships. Due to his core curriculum in high school, he was not allowed entry to those schools and the offers were rescinded. The schools wanted Delon to go to junior college and then transfer to their schools. Not wanting to go that route, Turner looked for other options. In walked FAMU head basketball coach Willie Booker.

Booker got assistance in persuading Turner to come to FAMU, from Turner's principal Dr. Hunt, who was a graduate. Hunt assisted Booker in making the connection to Turner, which resulted in a campus visit. Turner liked what he saw when he came to Tallahassee. "I met Eric Staten and a few other lifelong friends on that visit," Turner said. In months, Turner would be enrolled at FAMU and ready to make his debut.

Finally at FAMU

From the outset, things would be difficult. Turner began his freshman season in 1989, recovering from a meniscus tear. He would remarkably recover quickly. In fact, he played on opening day, which was against Bethune-Cookman College, as the Florida Classic Basketball Game would be played on the Friday night before the Saturday football game. Turner scored 30 points and won the Florida Basketball Classic MVP award.

Booker was not known to start freshmen, but Turner's performance dictated that he play right away. Being such a good player from the start, he began to gather nicknames. Former FAMU sports information director Alvin Hollins named him "Heavy D" and "Big Man," while Vitale's "Baby Barkley" was holding it's own. "I was a big fan of Charles Barkley. In fact, at that time he was one of my favorites, but I didn't like the nicknames, but I accepted them. Today, I realize that you get nicknames when you do something," Turner said.

He would go on to a stellar career with the Rattlers. He led the team in rebounding as a sophomore, pulling down 245 boards, for a 10.2 average. That 1990-1991 team would win FAMU their first-ever MEAC basketball title, and the lone championship for Booker. The Rattlers defeated the Delaware State Hornets 84-80 in overtime, to advance to the NCAA tournament. The Rattlers would fall to NE Louisiana 87-63 in the play-in game.

Turner led the team in both rebounding and scoring during his junior and senior years. During his junior year, he scored 572 points and grabbed 286 rebounds. The averages of 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game were good enough to lead the team. His senior season, he had his highest scoring output as he scored 21.5 points per game. That success in scoring and rebounding made him attractive to professional teams, nationwide as well as internationally.

FAMU's executive director of the Rattler Boosters, Mickey Clayton, was the assistant coach for the Rattlers during Turner's playing days and he recalls his experiences with Delon very vividly. "Coach Booker was a good recruiter, so for him to come in and not let anybody outdo him spoke of his talent level. He could work the post, take you off the dribble or shoot over you. If that wasn't enough, he would dunk it right over you. People flocked to the gym to see him dunk on folks," Clayton said.

The beginning of a journey

Turner left after playing his last game for the Rattlers in 1993. He was invited to camp with the Denver Nuggets, but did not make the squad. He left there to play in the CBA. He then went to Finland. He played one year at Finland and then went to play in Israel for two years. His most successful stint came with the following four years when he played in Spain. He was voted the MVP, as his team won two championships while he was there. He concluded his career playing three years in Argentina and two years in Korea.

"I retired in much better position than most athletes do. I had a successful professional basketball career, but I wanted so much more," he added. Slowed by a couple of knee operations, Turner knew it was time to move on. "My transition was smoother than most athletes because I had a direction," he added. That direction was entrepreneurship.

Beginning with a Quiznos franchise, Turner's natural business skills kicked in. Turner added a few Quiznos stores, before deciding to transition to Foot Locker stores. He and partner Kelvin Daniels, who played with Turner at FAMU, kept the businesses rolling along. At the height of business, he owned seven stores across the country, primarily in the Miami area and Dallas, TX. He was managing 40 people, four district managers and grossed about $6 million in sales. Life was good.

With the U.S and world economies in shambles, Turner had to do what was previously unthinkable. He was forced to downsize his assets in 2010. "It was one of the toughest things I ever had to do," he said. "Our business was as close-knit as a family. So to have to call someone you personally knew and tell them that you were closing that store, or that you were letting them go because we needed to downsize...that was tough. To know that you were in control of not only their salaries, but their family insurance, it was a hard lesson," Turner said.

Turner and his partners weathered the collapse of the U.S. economy and began rebuilding their businesses. Feeling that they could never regain all they feel they had lost during the downturn, but they survived the rough turn and made it through the trying time.

The trek back to campus

All seemed well until one day when Turner's son began inquiring about his college days. He asked about his accolades and then asked him where was his diploma from FAMU. He was taken aback. Though he had been successful in business and as an athlete, he felt a void in having left his degree incomplete.

Previously, while playing in Spain, he passed two correspondence courses, but determined it was too difficult to complete his degree in that manner. When he came back in the off-season, he inquired at FAMU about finishing his coursework. In 2009 he returned to get his transcript and get advised on a plan for completing the work.

The plan called for him to complete two classes at Broward College, where he lives in the Ft. Lauderdale area. He completed those courses and returned to FAMU to aggressively pursue the courses. He did so with a working knowledge of what he was doing. In the summer of 2011, he took nine hours and garnered a 4.0 average that semester, in the fall of 2011, he took the maximum load of 21 hours and collected a 3.67 GPA for the semester, and finally, he concluded it with 15 hours in the spring, where he made the Dean's list with a perfect 4.0. Mixed in among the hundreds of graduates, the 6'6" Turner sat in virtual oblivion, except for Clayton and several of his teammates who played with him.

"The guys were very close back then. Terry Giles, who was one of the best point guards in FAMU's history, was a perfect fit for Delon. Reginald Finney and Turner were a lethal combination. Aldwin Ware, Joey McGear, Kelvin Daniels and the whole team complemented each other. The Rattlers won the MEAC in 1991 and had to travel to NE Louisiana for the play-in game, which we came up short. That was a special time, winning our first-ever MEAC title," Clayton said.

Turner didn't complete his degree without its share of challenges. The shift in technology was a whirlwind around him. "When I first came to FAMU in 1989, we registered for classes with pieces of paper in Perry-Paige. When I came back in 2010, everything was on the computer. All information is now on the iRattler system. Coursework is now on Blackboard. I found myself befriending 18-22 year olds to help me maneuver the system," Turner jokingly said.

At the end of the day, Delon "Baby Barkley" Turner is proud to say he's a FAMU graduate. "The journey was definitely worth it. God gives everybody a path. That was my road; I had to travel it in my own way. I have no regrets about my life. Any decision I made I'll live with it, because it was a part of my path. I enjoyed and embraced the process. As an older student I was prepared, even though I had 10 times more obligations. As a matter of fact, I am looking at enrolling in an MBA program this summer.

Turner concluded, "I can't put into words what it felt like to walk across that stage. I hope someone reads this and says somebody else did it, I need to do what I have to do to finish up."



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