By R. Alan Richardson
Taking a trip-of-a-lifetime was something Coach Milfred Franklin had always thought about. He never knew it would be to visit his Godson and watch him practice and play in the National Basketball League in Europe. That Godson was none other than CJ Turman of Morgan County basketball fame. Franklin said, “CJ has been playing in Europe living by himself for the past nine months. I told him a year-and-a-half ago when he first went over that I was coming to see him, but it took me that long to actually get there.”
The 6’9” 248 pounder played a vital role on Morgan’s first-ever State Championship team that also featured Jailyn Ingram (FAU), Devorious (Dee) Brown (FAU), and Tookie Brown (GSU). He signed with the University of Tennessee out of high school and later transferred to Florida Atlantic University to reunite with his high school coach, Charlemagne Gibbons, who is now an assistant coach in their program. After short stints at both schools, Turman decided to showcase his game overseas. He now plays for MMCITE Brno of the Czech Republic.
Franklin contacted Turman to get all the details about how to get to Brno, but he didn’t expect it to be all that difficult. His first leg sent him on a flight from Atlanta to Istanbul, Turkey. Once he arrived there and for the remainder of his journey, Franklin encountered the language barrier that most tourists have to deal with. “Can you imagine looking up at a terminal and flight board or train board with all the times and cities posted, but it’s all in another language?” he laughed. After a 12 hour layover in Istanbul, he jumped a flight to Prague in the Czech Republic and from there traveled by train to Brno. He joked, “It was like the movie ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ except I would also have to add in taxis and busses, too.”
Upon his arrival, the father-figure and his protégé bonded for six days as they toured the city, ate at restaurants, went to practices together, and attended games. Franklin commented, “We’re close. I and the other coaches took him under our wings when he came in as a ninth grader when his mother entrusted us (Gibbons and Jonathan (Buck) Nelson) to take care of him. I was a single guy with no kids helping to take care of a 15-year-old. It was a life-changing jump for me acting as a father figure. I had to punish, ground, and take things (cell phone and driving privileges) away from him, but I would do it all over again if I had the chance.”
One of the most enjoyable moments for Franklin was simply getting to watch CJ play. “One of the perks was allowing me to ride the team bus. He played excellent. I hadn’t seen him play since he was a freshman at FAU and they played Georgia. He’s bigger, more aggressive, has better post awareness, and has improved his short-range jumper from 15 feet. In that game he had 14 points, seven rebounds, and three blocked shots. His coach told him after the game that he should get his coach/family members to come more often. ”Their fans are rabid and really into the game. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying or chanting, they had a great knowledge of the game and would let the referees know it.”
Going into a foreign environment can be daunting, but, according to Franklin, he had a lot of help along the way. He talked about the people saying, “It was an eye-opening and humbling experience for me. The younger generation speaks good English and other citizens were very helpful. Most of the people weren’t fashion-conscious wearing basic clothing and trying to meet their basic needs, but they were nice. The pace there is much slower as you hardly ever see people in a hurry or the hustle and bustle we have here.”
You can’t go halfway around the world without critiquing the food. Here’s what the coach told us, “Rice is rice, chicken is chicken, and pork is pork. They let me eat with the team in their cafeteria and even though I could tell what it was it had a different taste with different seasonings. Reading the menus at restaurants wasn’t a big deal once you get some help. They serve a lot of cold dishes with ham, vegetables, polish sausage, peppers, and onions. The one thing I never got used to was the drinks. The water was awful and even the bottled water didn’t taste the same. Even their sparkling water tasted like Sprite with no sugar. Overall, it was a great trip except for the one flight where, as we were taking off, the pilot slammed on the brakes. He turned hard to the left and we just sat there for about 15 minutes. That was the scariest part of the trip for me. I wouldn’t want to do that part again (laughter).”