GRANVILLE, Ohio – Gifted with the respite of the NBA’s all-star break, Evan Turner had plenty of options for this weekend.
It was his choice to spend Saturday afternoon inside the Mitchell Center at Denison University, and there was no other place he’d rather have been. It was there that Turner, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and whose jersey hangs in the rafters at Value City Arena, was ready to surprise a Big Red senior for his senior day.
Mission accomplished, and it was déjà vu all over again for Devon Pitts. Four years ago, Pitts was a senior at New Albany High School when Turner, with some help from Pitts’ mother, Carol, surprised him right before the opening tip on senior night. Today, Carol opted to give her son about 15 minutes to compose himself in case he got emotional when Turner surprised him with a visit.
He did. Again. After surprising the player he has mentored for nearly a decade, Turner told the Dispatch that he hadn’t expected that Pitts would have to fight off tears like he did four years ago.
“Then this time I go out there and the second I turn around he’s got tears and then he wipes his face,” Turner said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Come on, bro, we’ve already been through this once before.’ ”
The two have been through plenty together. They first met by coincidence, when the Pitts lived in Milwaukee and Carol had to go to California for a work trip. Needing somewhere to send Devon during the day, she found a camp at UCLA that was partially run by Turner’s assistant high school coach.
From there, the two began a relationship that has now grown into a friendship.
“It shows me that time means more than anything,” Turner said. “I’m proud of the kid. Since meeting him when he was 13, I’ve gone from a mentor to a friend. He’s turned into an adult and he’s grown from a great kid.”
Pitts has worked his way from part-time player during his first two seasons at Denison to team leader as a senior. He’s worked as a resident advisor for the last two years and was a member of Denison’s honor court as a junior, an honor based on both academic and athletic achievements that he is expected to reprise this year.
Along the way, Turner has been a presence in the younger Pitts’ life. An only child raised by a single mother, Devon has frequently been along for the ride during Turner’s collegiate and professional career. When Turner signed a four-year, $70 million contract with Portland this summer, he flew Devon with him to Las Vegas to sign the contract, Carol said.
Devon wasn’t available for comment because he was about to play a game, but his mother speaks of Turner as if he’s a second son. Both Carol and Turner escorted Devon to center court as the fourth of six seniors to be honored and smiled for photos before the game against Wabash – in which the Big Red won, 76-65, and Devon started and played 16 minutes.
Turner said he was happy to just repay the favor to someone who has impacted him.
“He’s always there for some of the biggest times in my life,” Turner said. “You get older, you understand relationships and friendships. It’s not just, ‘We’re friends because we’re from the same place’ or whatever. We’ll be friends until we’re 55 years old. I’m just happy to be here, happy to make sure he knows I’m there.
“To know him is just a blessing.”