Opposing teams used to be able to identify Robert Turner based on three things.
They knew his left-handed shooting motion was so sweet it could be featured on an instructional video. They knew that because Turner was undersized - maybe 5-foot-6 as a sophomore - he would have trouble scoring if he wasn't shooting well from the perimeter. Then there was the hair.
Turner, an Aquinas junior, wore his hair in braids, which, along with his striking looks, invited comparisons to teenage heartthrob Lil' Bow Wow. Before this high school season, though, Turner approached his AAU coach with a proposal.
"He told me, 'Coach, I'm mature now, and I'm ready to take my game to a whole new level,'" said Greg Williams, who coaches Turner on the Augusta-based Team Power. "He wanted to cut his hair. Ever since he shaved his head, he's been in that gym working."
The new-look Turner has become one of the best players in the area this year. He has doubled his scoring average from a year ago, and his 23.1 ppg. ranks second in the area.
"I call him one of the state's hidden secrets," Aquinas coach Bernie Norris said. "He's the best player no one knows about."
Turner's ability to mesh with a talented group of inside and outside players has Norris thinking this could be his first team to advance beyond the Sweet 16.
Aquinas is 10-4 heading into tonight's Region 4-A game at Warren County and is 6-1 against Class A teams this season with only a home loss to No. 1 Wilkinson County.
Norris says once his team gets healthy and 6-7 newcomer C.J. Washington - a former Butler player who moved out of its attendance zone and was cleared to play at Aquinas this week, according to Norris - gets used to his new teammates, Aquinas could prove to be a significant postseason factor.
Turner, still four months away from turning 17, says he has grown to nearly 5-11, 160 pounds, which might still seem small. Considering where he came from, that sounds giant. Turner wasn't even 5-5 when he entered high school. Instead, he became a standout player at Sego Middle by learning to score over taller players with high-arching shots.
"Everybody used to seem like a giant," he said.
Turner's mother, LaTanya, said doctors have told her they expect her son to continue to grow. If his appetite is any indication - he regularly devourers his own large pizza and can easily put away three Big Macs - Turner should shoot up any day.
"He's eating me out of house and home," LaTanya said.
When her son was a boy, LaTanya used to bribe him to perform household chores by promising the opportunity to play basketball.
Even though he would grow into someone who ate and ironed clothes with his right hand, Turner always cupped a basketball and shot with his left hand. It feels more natural, he said. He has used that shooting motion to bury 38 3-pointers already this season.
"I didn't have to teach him much, shooting-wise" Norris said. "All I had to do was see him play once. I was like 'Ok, that's good enough.'"
Turner has maintained that sweet shooting touch while also learning to attack the basket. Williams said he was astounded recently when he saw Turner score 25 points in a game without hitting a 3-pointer.
"He couldn't do that in the past; he would have been swallowed," Williams said. "Over the last six months or so, his game has risen to a whole new level. He's always had that ability to shoot. (Now) he's just quicker, bigger and more confident."