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Mar. 25—Ronnie Turner's homecoming is over, but the Lewiston native isn't going anywhere.
After two seasons at the helm of the Lewiston boys basketball program, Turner, a 2010 Lewiston High School graduate, has stepped down. His next coaching stop is only a mile away at Bates College, where he will be men's basketball coach Jon Furbush's lead assistant.
"It was difficult to leave Lewiston," Turner said. "Personally, I found a part of myself on Fern Masse court as a player and as a coach. It helped me become the man I am today."
As Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller, who was fully supportive of Turner's decision to step down, put it, "the opportunity presented itself."
"This is something he's always wanted to do and he's always been honest about that, that that's the direction he wanted to go," Fuller added. "So good for him that this happened, unfortunate for us that it happened so quickly."
Turner took a Blue Devils team that went 3-16 the season before he arrived and led them to 10 wins his first season. Lewiston went 5-6 this season.
"He was able to come in and kind of unite the kids, and bring them some commonality and give them some purpose," Fuller said. "He did a great job taking the next step from coach (Tim) Farrar. I think Coach Farrar left them in a good spot, and Ronnie was able to expand on that and take the program a step further along. He's certainly leaving it in a very good spot for the next person."
Turner said he leaves his former team with a better sense of belief in Lewiston basketball.
"The kids believed in themselves and each other. They loved one another. They held each other accountable on and off the court," Turner said. "Our program inspired the youth that they can be great too. We established a culture at Lewiston and I hope that continues."
Culture and belief helped Turner get the job as Furbush's "right-hand man," the Bates coach said.
"I've known Ronnie for a little bit. He brought his team over here last year to watch some practices, and I've just been really impressed with the culture he's established at Lewiston in just the (two years) that he's been there," Furbush said. "And he was really able to articulate that, and I just thought that a lot of the things he's done with the program in the short time there, those are hard things to establish. Having done this myself 13 years, you know, getting the right mix is a challenge every year."
Furbush said that Turner made his mark among a surprisingly big and competitive applicant pool for the position that was made available when Sam Leal took the head coaching job at UMaine-Farmington.
"One of the things that really stood out about him was that he knows exactly who he is as a coach, and what he's good at and what he needs to work on. He was just like genuinely able to talk about that in an interview and that really resonated with me," Furbush said.
Turner lacks experience in recruiting and the administrative side of college basketball, but those are things that won't be hard for him to figure out, Furbush said. Turner's first coaching job was as a student assistant at University of Maine, but he had bounced around before arriving at Lewiston.
"I think he has a lot of the intangibles of someone I want to work with on a daily basis," Furbush said. "It was just a really great hire for me, in a lot of ways, and I think Bates is also a good fit for him."
There was once a time when Turner didn't think he could fit in at a place like Bates.
"My friends and I used to sneak into Bates to play basketball and sometimes they would let us play and sometimes they would kick us out because we weren't supposed to be there," Turner said. "I remember having an affinity for Bates that only successful people went and worked at Bates. Little did I know I would have a key card that lets me in the gym and possibly be looked at by a young kid like myself as one of those successful people. It means a lot to me to be a role model/mentor to kids in this community."
Furbush is hoping Turner's standing in the local basketball community can help in recruiting. Furbush, a Bates graduate from South Portland who admits to being partial to Maine players, sees "some really good players coming up through in the area."
Turner is hoping his local impact goes beyond recruiting.
"As someone who grew up in Lewiston, I think there's a community engagement/relationship piece that I can really tap into," Turner said. "I look forward to it."
He's also looking forward to getting back into college coaching, which he said he's always wanted to do since his first experience at UMaine under then-head coach Bob Walsh.
"Now, I didn't know the journey that lay ahead of me — which was all over the place — but I never lost sight of that goal," Turner said. "Bates will be a great opportunity for me to be a sponge and roll my sleeves up."
Furbush knows that Bates in all likelihood won't be Turner's last stop, and that's why he uses his assistant position as a way to empower coaches who have aspirations to lead their own programs someday.
Fuller also knew that Turner wasn't going to be leading the Blue Devils forever. He's hoping Turner's influence on the program will last for years to come, and he's looking for a replacement who can keep Turner's momentum going. Fuller said he's hoping to fill the opening sooner than later.
"For me, I need someone that's going to relate with kids, and develop a relationship with kids that are long-lasting," Fuller said. "You know, I've been fortunate, I think my coaches have all done that, that have been there in the basketball program. And I think that's going to be a big priority moving forward, is someone who can relate with kids, and represent them, and connect with them, and give them a voice, and the direction of the program. And I think that Ronnie did a great job doing that."