Kris Rivers, wife of Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, remembers the first time DeAndre Turner called her “mom”.
The Rivers family had taken in Turner, who has suffered through numerous traumatic events in his life, including the loss of both parents and being shot in the leg, the innocent victim of a drive-by shooting.
One day, Rivers, who together with her husband served as Turner’s legal guardian for his senior year at Winter Park High School, was screaming at the young man when that transformative moment occurred.
“I’m kind of a yeller,” Kris Rivers said. “DeAndre got pretty upset, and he said, ‘Alright Mom’. And I said to myself, ‘OK, this is it. He knows that I can yell at him, and I’m still going to be here.’
“That’s part of parenting. I believe that with all my heart. As a family, you hang in there through good times and bad.”
The times have been much better of late for Turner, now a 6-3, 210-pound freshman shooting guard on the Broward College basketball team.
His collegiate debut wasn’t very good – the nervous 19-year-old fouled out without scoring. But since then, he has shown his talents, averaging 21.8 points, which ranks second in the state among junior college players through Broward’s 6-0 start.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a Division I player,” said Spencer Rivers, the youngest of Doc and Kris’ four children and a 6-2 freshman point guard at UC Irvine. “DeAndre’s a bruiser. He’s a really good defender because of how strong he is. He’s developing better ball-handling. If he gets that down, he will be really hard to guard.”
Spencer said Turner was “by far” the best shooter on their Winter Park team last season. That’s the same team that went 28-3, winning its last three games in overtime en route to the Class 8A state title.
Turner likely could have parlayed his big senior season into a four-year scholarship if not for his academic issues. But there were extenuating circumstances.
His father died when he was 1 year old, and his mother, Dionne Smith, passed away of lupus when he was 14.
Spencer and Turner first got to know each other as players on rival AAU teams. But in the sixth grade, their AAU teams merged, and their friendship grew.
The following year, Kris Rivers got a 2 a.m. phone call from one of the other AAU parents notifying her that Turner had been shot in his left leg while walking home from a birthday party.
Kris woke up Spencer, and they rushed to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where many other teammates were there in a show of support.
“It was surreal,” Kris said. “We [the Rivers family] are lucky that we live in a neighborhood where bullets aren’t flying. But [for Turner and others] this is real life in America. People get shot.”
Turner said it took about five months before he could play basketball again, and he was left with a scar around his shin as well as a valuable lesson.
“It taught me to appreciate life more and to appreciate basketball more,” Turner said, “because I thought my career was gone.”
Turner came back and led Ocoee High in scoring as a freshman. But after his mother died, his home life became even more of a struggle, and his grades slipped.
He was academically ineligible as a sophomore, and he took his junior year off from basketball to try to improve his grades.
That’s when Spencer said he “finally got the guts” to ask his mother if Turner could come live with the Rivers family and transfer to Winter Park.
“I felt like he needed to stay with us because his situation was kind of rocky,” Spencer said. “He was bouncing around a lot, and he needed a stable home so he could get his grades up.”
Kris talked it over with Doc, who gave the OK as long as Turner followed the rules of the house.
And with Kris around to enforce those rules, that was no problem.
“My mom is pretty tough,” Spencer said. “She’s the backbone of our family. She made sure he got his grades right.”
In addition to academic improvement, staying with the Rivers family also helped Turner as an athlete. All of a sudden, he was working out in the summers with NBA athletes such as Austin Rivers – Spencer’s older brother – as well as Chandler Parsons, Courtney Lee, Nick Calathes and others.
In December of their senior season, Winter Park played in a holiday tournament in Boca Raton. That’s where Broward College coach Bob Starkman spotted Turner.
“He stood out,” Starkman said. “He’s a stocky guard, physical, and he plays hard.”
Starkman soon contacted Kris, who was impressed by the coach’s insistence that his players hit the books. She and Turner became convinced that Broward was the best place for him.
“He showed he really cared for me,” Turner said of Starkman. “My parents liked him, too.”
Despite everything he has been through, Turner “is one of the happiest kids I know,” Spencer said.
Kris, meanwhile, said Turner has tremendous charisma and a “presence” about him.
“I just want him to graduate college because I know that will change his life,” Kris said. “I hope he has a great basketball career – but the NBA is a long shot for anyone.
“The hope is that he can be a thriving adult and maybe down the road he helps another child get a chance.”