Hometown: Lexington, KY (Bryan Station) [Fork Union Military Academy, Fork Union, VA]
Position: C Playing Height: 6-11 Playing Weight: 240
Date of Birth: December 28, 1960
Date of Death: July 8, 2010
Nickname: Melvin "Big Dipper" Turpin (More)
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Game by Game Statistics
1981-82: All-SEC [Third Team (UPI)]
1982-83: All-American [Helms]; All- NCAA Regional Team; All-SEC [First Team (AP, UPI & Coaches)]
1983-84: All-American [Consensus (2nd), AP (3rd), UPI (3rd), NABC (2nd), USBWA (2nd), Basketball Times (3rd)]; All- NCAA Regional Team; All-SEC [First Team (AP, UPI & Coaches)]; All-SEC Tournament
Post-UK Career Notes:
Drafted #6 Overall in the 1st Round of the 1984 NBA Draft by Washington
Professional Basketball Statistics [External Link]
Obituary - Former Kentucky star Melvin Turpin found dead at home, Louisville Courier-Journal (July 8, 2010) by Brett Dawson and C. Ray Hall
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Melvin Turpin, an All-America center at the University of Kentucky in the early 1980s, was found dead in his home Thursday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said. Turpin was 49.
His death is being investigated as a suicide, according to a news release from the Lexington-Fayette County Coroner's Office late Thursday night. It did not say if Turpin left a note.
Lexington police responded to a personal injury report at Turpin's home Thursday afternoon, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said. The coroner's report lists the time of the incident at approximately 4:35 p.m. Turpin was pronounced dead at 5:26 p.m.
No autopsy had been performed, according to the release.
Standing outside her Lexington home Thursday night, Margaret Burrus, Turpin's 54-year-old sister, said that she knew her brother had died but that she hadn't been told suicide was suspected.
"I didn't know that he was depressed or anything like this, for suicide," Burrus said. "I would have never said that he would have done this." Turpin had diabetes, Burrus said, and "trying to keep it under control was rough."
Turpin, who stood 6-feet-11, and his 7-1 teammate Sam Bowie were known as the "Twin Towers" during their time at UK.
Both were picked in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft, and Turpin played five seasons in the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz and Washington Bullets.
Turpin had been working as a security guard in recent years, Burrus said, including at the UK Medical Center for about the past two years. He lived at home with his wife, Kerry, who was not at home when he died.
Kerry Turpin had been receiving medical treatment for a heart condition, Burrus said, and was sometimes away from home.
Joe B. Hall, who coached Turpin at UK, said he last saw Turpin about two weeks ago during breakfast at a pancake house.
"He was just in a great mood," Hall said. "He looked good. He had trimmed down quite a bit. He seemed as happy as ever."
"It's such a shock to think that this could happen," Hall said. "I don't think anyone had an indication of what he was going through that would have brought this about."
Hall said Turpin was due to start drawing his pro basketball pension soon.
Hall recalled Turpin as "a guy that was always in a good, happy frame of mind," adding, "Everybody loved Melvin Turpin that knew him, and the ones that didn't know him don't know what they missed."
Bowie described Turpin as "a prankster, a character. ... He enjoyed life and was sometimes maybe criticized for maybe not taking things too seriously."
Bowie said he last saw Turpin a few weeks ago. "He was on a motorcycle downtown, and obviously with his size, he couldn't hide from anybody. That pretty much exemplifies Melvin's free-wheeling. ... He was a wonderful individual that will be greatly missed. The commonwealth lost a good man."
Turpin ranks 16th in UK history with 1,509 career points. He increased his scoring average every season, averaging 15.2 points per game as a senior, when he was the team's leading scorer.
Turpin's career shooting percentage of .591 is third-best in UK history. Though he was often overshadowed by Bowie, Turpin was named a Helms Foundation All-American in 1983.
Their senior team, which included Jim Master, Kenny Walker and Dicky Beal, made the NCAA Final Four. Turpin was a consensus second-team All-American that season.
In 123 college games, he averaged 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds.
As a junior, he turned in one of the most remarkable performances in UK basketball history. He scored 42 points in a 65-63 loss at Tennessee on Jan. 31, 1983.
"He was probably the best outside-shooting big man I ever saw," Hall said. "Anywhere."
UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of Melvin Turpin. Our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends as they mourn their loss. The University of Kentucky and the Big Blue Nation will forever remember Melvin and all his contributions to our basketball program."
The Washington Bullets selected Turpin with the sixth pick in the 1984 NBA draft and traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Turpin had his best NBA season in 1985-86, when he averaged 13.7 points and seven rebounds per game, both career highs, for Cleveland. For his career, he averaged 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 361 games.
In the pros, as in college, Turpin struggled with his weight. Hall assigned a team manager to monitor Turpin's after-hours eating. Questions about his work ethic also colored his NBA career.
When the Charlotte Hornets were looking for a big man in 1988, personnel director Gene Littles was asked if he would consider Turpin.
"He is not even considered," Littles said. "I fined him $60,000 one year in Cleveland. He's overweight, and he doesn't work."
As a youngster growing up in Lexington, weight was the least of Turpin's problems. He was tall and thin and the victim of teasing and bullying by boys who called him "Stick" and "Beanpole."
In those days, he sought nothing but to be left alone, he told the Knight-Ridder News Service in 1984.
Before Turpin's junior year of high school -- when he was 6-8 or so -- a Lexington youth leader named Melvin Cunningham persuaded him to try basketball, and Turpin's life changed. As a senior at Bryan Station, he averaged 24 points and 15 rebounds a game.
Before entering UK, Turpin spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Virginia, working on his skills on the court and in the classroom.
He also served as the school band's drum major.
"They wanted somebody the members of the band would have no trouble seeing," he explained.
Melvin Turpin, who died Thursday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was one of the University of Kentucky's most productive basketball players during a highly productive era.
During his four seasons, from 1980 to '84, UK won 96 games and lost 27. He was the leading scorer (15.2 points a game) on the 1984 team that made the NCAA Final Four.
But Turpin's most memorable performance may have come in defeat -- a 65-63 loss at Tennessee in 1983.
Turpin scored 42 points; his teammates combined for 21.
Teammate Sam Bowie, who sat out that season with a broken leg, watched from the sideline.
"By the time we got on the airplane to head over to Alabama, he was already asleep," Bowie recalled, as if "it was just an ordinary performance. Any other individual, including myself -- when you score 42, it's human nature for your ego and your blood to be flowing. ... There's no way you would sleep. You would be kind of bragging ... but Melvin was never one of those type of guys to get too high on a good performance, and when he had a poor performance, that didn't affect him, either."
Teammate Dicky Beal was similarly moved by Turpin's postgame calm that night. "I can't imagine scoring that many points in a game against your rival, on their floor, and just going to sleep afterwards," Beal said. "But that was just him in a nutshell. He loved the game. We all were kids then, but he was a really big kid."
Turpin, who stood 6-feet-11, was far more than a one-dimensional player. "People knew what a great shooter he was," Beal said. "... But people didn't realize how nimble he was for a 7-footer. And he had tremendous, outstanding hands. He could catch the ball in the paint and post up, but he was amazing on the break, and if you threw him a lob and it was anywhere near his vicinity, he would catch it."
Florida State men's basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, a UK assistant during Turpin's days, recalled him as "soft-spoken and jovial and always pleasant to be around," a player possessed of "a wonderful smile and a beautiful personality."
Did Turpin's gentle nature hurt him on the court?
"Absolutely not," Hamilton said. "He was all business. He was the No. 6 pick in the (NBA) draft. That means he took care of business on the court."
Mid-Continent University coach Winston Bennett, a UK teammate, said of Turpin: "He just made you feel good about yourself and good about life. ... I would hope people will remember Mel's greatness -- and his greatness being his love for people, his love for the Kentucky fan base and the state of Kentucky.
This was a man of great pride and great love."
Turpin's wife, Kerry, is a patient at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington. She is recovering from a stroke, according to a niece, Rosalind Turpin. Kerry Turpin did not want to speak to reporters on Friday, said Jenny Wurzback, director of community relations at Cardinal Hill.
Kerr Brothers Funeral Home in Lexington will handle Turpin's services, according to the Fayette County Coroner's office, but details had not been finalized on Friday.