Former Penn men's basketball forward Conor Turley certainly left his mark during his tenure with the Quakers. But his legacy didn't end with his final game at the Palestra.
After taking his final steps down Locust Walk as a student back in 2011, Turley decided to continue his basketball career and signed with the Pioneros de Quintana Roo, a professional basketball team based near Cancún, Mexico. The Pioneros play 13 other Mexican professional teams in in the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, one of Latin America's most competitive leagues.
After establishing themselves as one of the best teams in the LNBP while Turley was on the roster, the Pioneros traveled to Formosa, Argentina to play in the Liga de las Americas’ Final Four. The best teams from various Latin American leagues comprise the Liga de las Americas, and Turley was able to participate in the tournament during all four of his years with the team. The Pioneros won the Liga during his first year on the team, becoming the first Mexican team to take home the trophy.
Turley never got the chance to earn a Big 5 title or top the Ivy League while at Penn, so this accomplishment really resonated with him.
“When I had the opportunity to be an integral part of a championship team in the Liga de las Americas, I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. A weight I carried from unfinished business in the Ivy League. Cutting down that net was therapeutic,” he said.
Turley’s ties to Mexico go deeper than just his basketball career. His paternal grandparents hail from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, and Turley was fluent in Spanish before he signed with the team in 2011. He now lives in Cancún with his wife Mayra, whom he married shortly after retiring from the LNBP due to a nagging shoulder injury.
“I don’t really know what to say about retiring … it makes me feel old. Basketball is a part of me,” Turley said.
In pursuing a life after basketball, he decided to take advantage of a sales opportunity with AMResorts, where he’s been working full-time since 2015. Apart from his job, Turley pursues his passion of real estate, investing in opportunities along the Riviera Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula, and he also plans to start a foundation with one of his best friends and fellow basketball player, Edwin Sanchez.
“Our mission is to aid youth in this region to pursue academic and athletic opportunities to improve their quality of life and future,” Turley said.
Despite his shoulder injury keeping him from playing professionally, Turley still manages to play pick-up and actually competes in a semi-pro league in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
Reminiscing on his time at Penn playing basketball, one in-game moment tends to stick out, also known as “the pinky game.”
In 2010, up against a Cornell team that was ranked No. 22 in the USA Today poll, the Quakers were on a mission to produce an upset.
After a shot banged off the rim, one of Turley’s teammates and close friends, Rob Belcore, jumped to get the rebound but couldn’t quite get a handle on it. After Belcore’s tip, Turley ran full speed to recover the board, eventually diving for it.
At the exact moment Turley reached the ball, Cornell's Ryan Wittman also got to it.
“I think this defies physics, but all of the impact went to my pinkies. Everything happened so fast that I didn’t feel any pain at all, but, when I went to do a pushup to get up, my dislocated pinkie on my right hand was caught under my weight. That hurt a ton,” he said.
After somehow managing to get to his feet, Turley ran to the ref and only had to shove his pinkies in the official’s face for the game to be stopped.
After being hustled off the court and into the x-ray room, the news Turley received regarding his hands was less than ideal.
“They informed me that both pinky fingers were not just broken, but absolutely shattered. I needed surgery and would miss the last few games of the season,” he said.
Despite the sad end to his season, the Quakers ended up knocking off the Big Red that night, perhaps motivated by Turley’s example of pure hustle. Cornell would make the NCAA tournament that year and advance all the way to the Sweet 16, enshrining the win — and Turley’s pinkies — in Penn’s decorated sports history.
Fortunately for Turley, his injuries eventually healed, and he was able to continue playing the game that he loved; however, he did not escape the relentless name-calling of his teammates and awkward situations he was put in while healing.
“My friends made fun of my ‘lobster claws’ as I only had three free fingers on each hand," he said. "I took exams with a scribe and extra time the rest of the semester, and I was given a note-taker for my courses. You can’t make this stuff up."
Turley and his friend Joe Holder, a former football player who also suffered horrendous pinkie injuries, debate to this day over whose pinkies are uglier. At least Turley has the claim to breaking both pinkies at once.
In the meantime, he expressed his undying support and admiration for the current Quaker squad’s accomplishments.
“Seeing them win and go to the tourney last year was so great for me. That’s who Penn is."
Hopefully this year’s team can live up to Turley’s expectations; he is certainly a man the team can look up to for inspiration.
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