MILWAUKEE (AP)—Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert doesn’t need a scouting report on Evan Turner.
In fact, Shumpert can probably tell the Yellow Jackets’ coaching staff a thing or two about his grade school teammate.
A spot in next weekend’s Midwest Regional semifinal is the big prize in Sunday’s game between 10th-seeded Georgia Tech (23-12) and No. 2 seed Ohio State (28-7). But there are hometown bragging rights on the line, too, with Chicago natives Shumpert and Turner facing each other for the first time since high school.
“You don’t want to see that person at home and hear, ‘We beat you, we beat you,”’ said Turner, the Big Ten’s player of the year and leading candidate for national honors.
Added Shumpert, “It’s a lot of fun, especially on a stage like this and in Milwaukee, being so close.”
Shumpert, a sophomore, is a year younger than Turner. But he was talented enough that, as a seventh-grader, he was put on the eighth-grade squad, where he and Turner were the starting backcourt. When practice was done, they often played one-on-one.
After going their separate ways for high school, they faced each other during the season and in the summer.
“I always remember me winning,” Turner said. “I might be biased that way.”
No, that’s how Shumpert remembers it, too. He didn’t hit his growth spurt until high school and, after growing seven inches in one year, it took a while to adjust. But his game has come a long way since then, and Turner is likely to have his hands full with his old friend Sunday.
Shumpert is relentless defensively, and often gets opposing teams’ best players. In Friday night’s victory over Oklahoma State, Shumpert limited James Anderson, the nation’s third-leading scorer, to just 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Now Shumpert gets Turner, who came into the tournament averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds.
“Evan’s really aggressive going down the middle. A lot of people I’ve guarded this year are more on the wing,” Shumpert said. “When you’re aggressive on the wing you can always force somebody into some help. It’s harder to do that when somebody’s going down the middle as much as Evan does. So it’s going to be a harder matchup.”
But one they both hoped would happen.
The two keep tabs on each other during the season, tracking stats and exchanging texts and phone calls, and they saw each other when both were in Chicago for Christmas. Turner even found a way around Georgia Tech’s self-imposed cell phone ban, sending Shumpert messages on Facebook.
When they saw each other at the Bradley Center before the first-round games, Turner told Shumpert he was rooting for Georgia Tech.
“I said, ‘Man, get that win so we can go head-to-head.’ We saw each other afterward and he said, ‘I did my part, now you have to go do yours,”’ Turner said.
The Buckeyes did, despite one of the worst shooting nights of Turner’s career. He was held to nine points on 2-of-13 shooting, and was clearly frustrated by UC-Santa Barbara’s physical defense.
While Shumpert said the Yellow Jackets don’t plan on beating Turner up, they will play him tough—not that Turner would expect anything less.
Chicago is a breeding ground for some of the country’s best guards—Sherron Collins of Kansas and Duke’s Jon Scheyer are both Windy City natives, as are the NBA’s Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade—and kids grow up knowing they better play tough D or they’ll be taking a seat on the sidelines.
“We don’t have a lot of big men so you’re usually going to be guarding a guard. And you’re usually going to be guarding a guard that can handle the ball,” Shumpert said. “If you don’t (play good defense), either the crowd is going to be laughing at you or you’re going to get scored on.”
And old friends aren’t exempt, especially when it’s the NCAA tournament.
“Everyone’s going to bring it,” Turner promised. “You don’t want to go home.”