UK Big Dipper commits suicide
Posted: Friday, July 9, 2010 6:44 pm
Associated Press Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Mel Turpin, an All-American center dubbed “The Big Dipper” who led Kentucky to the Southeastern Conference championship in 1984 and played in the NBA, committed suicide Thursday, authorities said. He was 49.
Police and the coroner said they found Turpin dead when sent to his North Lexington house on a personal injury call. Coroner Gary Ginn said Turpin took his life, but would not say how.
He also would not say whether a suicide note was left.
The 6-foot-11 Turpin was an All-American and All-Southeastern Conference player for the Wildcats from 1980-84, then played for three NBA teams.
The center helped lead the Wildcats to three consecutive regular-season SEC titles and Kentucky took the tournament title in 1983-84.
He averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game that season, making 74.5 percent of his shots.
Turpin went sixth in the NBA draft that included Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, but never measured up to those future stars.
Turpin was taken by the Washington Bullets, then traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
His best season came in 1985-86 when he had 13.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but he was out of the league four years later.
Turpin also played for the Utah Jazz and the Bullets.
Neighbor Amanda Mc-Fadden said Thursday that Turpin always seemed happy.
“He never looked upset. He kept a smile on his face, just a good person,” she said.
Ginn said Turpin was working as a security guard at the University of Kentucky Hospital.
Joe B. Hall, who coached Turpin at Kentucky, said Turpin was outgoing.
“It’s hard for me to realize that this has happened,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “We loved each other. He was one of my boys. It hurts very deeply to hear this. He was a young man that everyone liked and everyone liked being around.”
Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky athletics director, said school supporters “will forever remember Melvin and all his contributions to our basketball program.”
Current coach John Calipari expressed his sympathy to Turpin’s family and said he is praying “for their strength during this time of grief.”
Margaret Burrus, his sister, tearfully told reporters that her brother was diabetic and trying to keep it under control.
“I didn’t know he was depressed or anything,” she said. “I would have never said that he would have done this.”
Turpin was the youngest sibling among six, Burrus said. Just two are still living.
“We had a big family and it’s now whittling away,” she said.
Burrus said Turpin’s wife had a heart condition and authorities said she was not at home at the time of the death.
Turpin was a Lexington native and played at Bryan Station High School.
Published in The Messenger 7.9.10