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Justin Whitaker | | July 1, 2022

DIII men's basketball star has faith untraditional path leads to the pros

Randolph-Macon wins National Championship

There's no map or script to follow.

Very few Division III student-athletes have traveled down this road, and even fewer were representing a religion while attempting what once seemed impossible.

Three-time Division III All-American Ryan Turell from Yeshiva has his sights set on becoming the first Orthodox Jew to play in the NBA.

The dynamic 6-foot-7 guard led all three NCAA Divisions with 27.1 points per game while shooting 59% from the field and 47% from behind the arc during the 2021-22 season. NBA scouts began tracking Turell around the time COVID-19 led to the cancellation of Yeshiva's NCAA tournament run in 2020.

A LOOK BACK: Check out all the past champions in DIII men's basketball

There's no denying that making the pros from Division III is an unorthodox path. But the pressure and attention from the Jewish and Division III communities he's representing only add to his determination.

"Pressure means you've put in the work and that you've created a following, so I view it as motivation to keep on improving and keep on pushing myself," said Turell, who wears a yarmulke during games. "That pressure is going to help you find your potential. I definitely love the support I get from those communities."

Turell's draft stock was rising throughout the pre-draft process. The Los Angeles native had a strong showing at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a four-day showcase event for seniors with NBA and international scouts in attendance.

Turell was the only Division III player invited and excelled against the competition. He helped lead his team to a 3-0 record and the tournament championship while coming through with 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in his team's second contest.

"I think people get surprised when they see that I can compete at that level," Turell said. "They don't expect it coming from a DIII kid. I just want to keep on surprising people, getting better and proving people wrong."

His standout performance earned Turell an invitation to the 2022 NBA G League Elite Camp in mid-May and more exposure in front of NBA front offices.

Unfortunately, Turell fractured his fifth metatarsal in training a day before departing for the event in Chicago.

He had previously worked out for the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and had additional pre-draft workouts scheduled with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. The foot injury halted the steady momentum Turell had built.

"It definitely has been difficult, but I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and this is part of the story," Turell said. "I just have to keep taking it one day at a time and get better every day, whether it's getting stronger or doing form shooting."

Turell was not drafted in June's NBA draft, and the injury will also prevent him from participating in the NBA Summer League, a showcase for young players attempting to make NBA and G League rosters. He's currently weighing his options, which include playing internationally next season.

"I'm a person that loves playing basketball and loves this process, so it hurts a little not being able to be out there," Turell said. "At the same time, I know this isn't a one-year career. It's hopefully an over 10-year career, and I need to make sure I'm healthy before I get back on the court."

It's a rare occurrence for a Division III player to make the jump to the NBA, but Turell is influenced by those who have accomplished it.

In the 1999 NBA draft, Devean George from Augsburg became the only Division III player ever to be taken in the first round. He won three championships with Turell's favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

More recently, Duncan Robinson began his college career at Division III's Williams before transferring to Division I's Michigan and eventually landing as a Miami Heat wing.

"What he did was amazing," Turell said. "He set that path for a lot of DIII guys that thought it was once impossible. He made it possible."

Feedback from NBA teams said they see Turell as a 3-and-D guy, someone who can shoot from deep and play strong defense. JJ Redick, Klay Thompson, Patrick Beverley, Marcus Smart and Robinson are all players Turell said he has learned from and tries to emulate.

Over his four-year career at Yeshiva, Turell averaged 24 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He's the program's all-time leading scorer, with 2,158 career points, and scored a single-game record 51 points in his senior season.

While he filled up the school's record books, the Maccabees had a 50-game winning streak from 2019 to 2021, earning two Skyline Conference Championships and a No. 1 ranking in the Top 25 national poll.

THE ROAD TO A WINNER: Click or tap here to view the full 2022 DIII men's basketball bracket 

Ryan Turell was the name on top of every opponent's scouting report. He had to prove himself each day.

"It helped me grow as a player to learn what other teams think my weaknesses are and see what they focus on," Turell said. "It helped me learn how to get a shot or get open when teams are denying and focusing on you."

For someone who had offers to play in Division I, Turell loved his experience as a student-athlete at the private Jewish school in New York City. He graduated with a degree in marketing and credited his professors with teaching him life skills critical to his personal growth.

Turell recognizes that Yeshiva likely does not have as many resources as other schools, but a fancy weight room could not replicate the brotherhood or bonding the team shared.

"At the end of the day, we weren't going to let that hold us back as a team," he said. "You may not get all the resources that other schools have, but at the end of the day it's about the work you put in."

Along the way, different people helped make his time on campus memorable.

CHAMPS: How Randolph-Macon won the 2022 championship

Longtime fans and friends of the program Lior and Janet Hod passionately cheered on the Maccabees at every game. Head coach Elliot Steinmetz is a close advisor and role model to Turell. Turell credited former teammates Simcha Halpert and Daniel Katz as being influential when he arrived and called four-year teammate Gabriel Leifer "probably the best teammate I've ever played with."

"It was the best decision I've ever made, and I'm super grateful for all of the people involved, from my coaches, teammates and overall community at Yeshiva," Turell said. "They made it a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something I'm going to tell my kids about someday. I'm going to enjoy that experience for the rest of my life."