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February 18, 2005

This junior's standout play has taken PSD to new levels

From: - Philadelphia,PA,USA - Feb 18, 2005

Fred Turner knows he's got game. He has gotten past the distractions. By Chris Goldberg For The Inquirer

Fred Turner, a guard on the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf boys' basketball team, says he has no trouble gaining the respect of basketball players who can hear.

"Once they see we have the same kinds of abilities, they forget I'm deaf," the standout junior said, signing through an interpreter. "Most hearing teams - once they see I can play - really get on me. They start trash-talking, but that doesn't bother me. I just keep playing."

Turner, a 5-foot-91/2 junior from Philadelphia, was the biggest reason the Panthers finished 16-9 this year in only their third season of basketball since the 1980s. Turner averaged 22 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 3.2 steals, and will enter his senior season with 834 career points.

Turner's coach, Ken "Jake" Eberle, likened the junior's playing style to Sixers star Allen Iverson.

"He is real quick and is able to disrupt the other team's offense," Eberle said. "Fred gets most of his points within 10 feet of the basket. He is sort of like Iverson in that he gets inside against the taller guys. He scores on a lot of drives and shoots the short jumpers [well]."

Turner's talents have helped the Panthers rebuild their program after a long layoff. PSD had a varsity program for many years, but the high school was dropped in 1984. It was resurrected in 2002, and a team was quickly formed to play an abbreviated schedule.

Last season, the Panthers went 8-7, and this season, the team doubled its win total while competing against many other schools for the deaf from the Northeast region, as well as Philadelphia-area charter, religious and prep schools.

Eberle, who spent 44 years in education - mostly in deaf education - as a teacher and administrator, had been the team's coach in its final three seasons of play in the 1980s (from 1981 to '84). He came out of retirement to again run the program in the final games of the 2002-03 season.

This year's team not only featured Turner, but also had strong contributions from junior center Cooper Savoy and Turner's partner in the backcourt, sophomore guard Donald Childress. Eberle said the team's weakness is depth, noting that the high school has only 26 boys.

"Fred and Donald can put a lot of pressure on the other team," Eberle said. "When we get the ball, we run. We've got to learn when to slow it up."

As for Turner, the coach said: "Fred plays, no matter what the score is. He keeps working hard and shows the other kids what you need to do to be a good basketball player."

Turner's determination was useful when he learned the sport on the playgrounds of Southwest Philadelphia. He said that he found success quickly and that being deaf only motivated him more.

"My friends taught me when I was 10 or 11 in the playgrounds," said Turner, who was born deaf. "I played with all hearing kids. They showed me how to shoot and dribble, and they could see that I could learn.

"They tried to make it hard for me, and that helped me learn more. They saw I picked it up fast and then just treated me like another player."

Turner said he hopes to play in college and would like to attend Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., or National Technical Institute for the Deaf (an affiliate of Rochester Institute of Technology).

"Most hearing people think this way, 'He's deaf, he can't play basketball, he can't shoot.' I knew I could play," Turner said. "To me, I knew it didn't matter."

Being deaf, though, does change the way players communicate on the court. The coach cannot yell out instructions and players need to find other ways to work together and be quick with their sign language. Turner sees this as an advantage at times.

"We get a feeling because we're so used to doing things visually," he said. "We can react to each other. We know by our body language what we want to do.

"Sometimes we know the coach is trying to get our attention, but we're afraid to look because we don't want to take our eyes off the court," Turner said. "We have to sign fast. We might be dribbling and signing at the same time. Hearing people may not even notice."

Eberle said he has to adjust his style of coaching when calling plays or giving instructions. He signs and uses facial expressions and hand motions to communicate with players on the court.

"It's difficult to communicate," he said. "A hearing coach can just call out, 'Watch out behind you.' If I start waving my hands, they may not watch the ball. I try to communicate when the other team is bringing up the ball slowly or during fouls or dead balls."

Turner appreciates when people consider him a good basketball player rather than a good basketball player who is deaf.

"We can't be bothered with distractions around us," Turner said. "We have to concentrate on the game."

© 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.