With half-court shot, college student won tuition, car, fame

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — The mental preparation it took to shoot a half-court shot for free tuition was nothing for Lemuel Turner compared to meeting Ellen DeGeneres.

Lem, a freshman finance major at Ball State, was told to walk out, wave to the crowd, give Ellen a gentle hug and sit down.

“I tried to give her the gentlest hug ever,” he said.

Turner has been watching the Ellen DeGeneres show for years. His mother always had it on after school. So, when the video of him sinking a half-court shot in Worthen Arena during freshman orientation started going viral, he emailed her a link.

He wasn’t expecting a response, but a producer from the show called him while he was eating dinner on campus.

Two sentences into the conversation, his phone died. He found his phone charger and immediately plugged into the nearest outlet in the dining hall.

“I was crouching in the corner trying to salvage this opportunity,” he said.

Someone on Ellen’s team asked him what his car situation was before he went on the show. He told them about his 2000 Saab at home, and how it’s starting to fall apart. He didn’t bring it to Ball State because he knew it wouldn’t make the 4-hour drive from Vernon Hills, Illinois.

Lem swears he had no idea he was about to win a new Ford Focus, he just figured they were asking for background about him.

He was relieved that he didn’t have to make another half-court shot, but still wasn’t pleased that he air-balled before making the third free throw on TV, the shot that won him the car.

The truth is, Lem isn’t new to basketball.

A ‘basketball family’

He played for his high school team and even considered continuing at a Division III school before choosing to play volleyball at Ball State. His Facebook cover photo is of him dunking.

Lem is from what he calls a “basketball family.” The kind where he and his three brothers never got extra sleep during the summer because their father, Lionel, had them awake and running drills by 7 a.m.

Lionel always expected to have at least one child playing basketball in college, Lem said. It was a tough conversation when Lem chose volleyball, a sport he originally joined to help improve his basketball skills.

But winning free tuition and 15 minutes of college basketball fame eased the pain, Lem joked.

The Turners’ already have three children in college, with Lem’s two older brothers, Lorenzo and Luke, attending a community college before transferring to a four-year school. Lem’s younger brother is close, a junior in high school.

Lem said he has an academic scholarship that brings his tuition down from the $23,000 out-of-state price tag to the in-state rate of about $8,000 per semester. He also has a partial athletic scholarship and applied for financial aid. But saving a few thousand dollars has taken a load off of his family’s shoulders.

It would be tough for any family, but Lem said it’s especially difficult since both of his parents are deaf, unable to hear or speak.

“There’s not really much of a job market for deaf people,” he said.

Lionel has been working at a post office since before Lem was born. Lem’s mother, Luz, recently became a professional photographer, working weddings and taking family portraits.

Lorenzo is also deaf, but Luke, Lem and Leo can hear. The family uses sign language to communicate, which was all of the children’s native language. Lem said he didn’t begin learning English until preschool, and went to speech therapy in elementary school.

“We had always been reading, we just didn’t know what the sounds were,” Lem said.

Since neither parent could hear what the boys were saying, Lem said they used some strange words when they were young. For example, they used to think “pretzel” was the word for “ketchup,” Lem said. They mixed up Luke with Nick, Leo was BeeBe and Lem was Namel.

Now Lem is considering switching his finance major to English. He hopes to be a famous blogger one day. Or, if he sticks with a finance major, a financial adviser for low-income families.

“You always see lot of homeless people (in the Chicago area) and you always think about what they could have done. I want to be the person who stops it before they are evicted.”

The double-takes

In an hour at the student Recreation and Wellness Center, three people came up to shake Lem’s hand and congratulate him. Countless others did a double-take and stared. He usually answers their unspoken question, “Yes, I’m the guy.”

He got a haircut, but it hasn’t helped much.

Aside from Ellen, Lem said he has been contacted by Buzzfeed, Fox News and ABC News in New York. The video made ESPN’s Top 10 Plays. Lem said he turned a few interviews down, including one that required him to be in Indianapolis at 7 a.m.

“I’m a college student,” he said, “We don’t get up that early.”

Even after all the publicity, Lem said his closest friends are still his volleyball teammates.

“A lot of people know me, but I don’t know a lot of people,” he said.

Driving around in a brand new Ford Focus probably won’t help Lem be more inconspicuous.

Lem doesn’t have his new car yet, but he’s in contact with a local dealership. He is opting against the electric car, he said, because he hasn’t been able to find a charging port in Muncie. He will still get a Ford Focus.

The first thing he plans to do with it: Cruise around campus and enjoy the weather.

The second thing: Surprise his parents with a trip home.

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Source: The (Muncie) Star-Press, http://tspne.ws/1iBToWo

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Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

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