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Arizona safety Jaxen Turner shining in return from injury, hopes to join basketball team as walk-on

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

If the Arizona basketball team ever needs an extra body, Sean Miller can give Jaxen Turner a call. The UA safety said Tuesday that he’s hoping to join the program as a walk-on.

He’s no scrub.

Turner was a two-sport athlete at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, California and a top-1,000 basketball recruit.

As a senior, he averaged 23.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. Turner began his career as a pass-first point guard but eventually developed into a dangerous shooter.

“I compare my game to... I’ll probably say like a Damian Lillard,” he said. “I got the ice in my veins.”

Turner said he played both sports in high school so that he could boost his chances of earning a scholarship. Ultimately, he chose to play football in college because he wanted to attend a big school. His basketball offers were from mid-majors like Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton.

That appears to be a wise decision as Turner has already emerged as a starter in his second year in the Arizona program. And maybe he would have cracked the starting lineup sooner had he not suffered a significant shoulder injury that limited him to six games as a freshman when he was a key reserve.

“I’m just blessed for the opportunity,” Turner said. “The injury set me back last year so I didn’t really play football since high school, so it really feels like I’m back on my own nature, back getting familiar with the defense and just the college atmosphere, you know?”

In two starts at safety, Turner has logged 11 tackles, including one for a loss. Listed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds he brings an interesting combination of size and speed to the position.

In high school, he was known for his big hits, which showed up Saturday when he leveled the Washington holder at the goal line to save two points on a fake extra point.

Turner was also a ball hawk in high school, once racking up 10 interceptions in a single season. His basketball background helps him win jump balls.

“The one thing about him is one-on-ones, he’s really tough,” said UA tight end Bryce Wolma. “He’s great in man-to-man coverage, so that’s always great work and then he’s also physical in the run game. So I think that his energy and his kind of spear on the defense is a really good thing.”

Turner said one of his goals at Arizona is “to make a name for myself, so people know who Jaxen Turner is and what he’s capable of doing.”

His coach is certainly noticing him.

“Jaxen Turner has had his moments, he has really come on,” Kevin Sumlin said Monday when asked about the secondary. “He’s made some really good plays, he’s got a couple of penalties that are questionable, but he’s been aggressive. For the most part he’s having a season that we thought he would have. He’s got a little nagging injury but he’s playing through it.”

Turner described the ailment as a minor leg injury. It’s forced him to miss some series here or there, but all things considered he’s been pretty happy with his play.

“It’s gradually elevating,” he said. “I’m still a rookie. My feet aren’t in the water yet, so I just look at it as a growing process, just learning how offenses read me and just getting a feel for a college atmosphere. I’m still trying to get used to it, so I look at it as a great opportunity to get out there.”

As for his plans to join Miller’s squad, Turner said he will revisit them next season.

“It’s another love of mine,” he said. “So hopefully next year after this COVID season passes by I can get in the loop in basketball.”

If you want to see just how good Turner is on the hardwood, check out his senior year highlights: