Updated: Jan 23
Alley Oop Hoops presents
"Drive & Kick" with Ralston Turner, Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch. Ralston played college basketball two years at Louisiana State University before transferring and playing his final two years at North Carolina State University. After going undrafted, Ralston played for two years in the NBA G League and is now three years in to his post-basketball career as a Financial Advisor. Ralston also coaches JV basketball at his former high school, Muscle Shoals High School, in Alabama.
View the conversation summary below.
Childhood love for basketball
In his earliest memories, he only remembers basketball. At three years old, he remembers his father asking to see his crossover. His father was a Lakers fan and passed that along to him.
He always loved to play basketball. If you dumped a bucket of balls in front of him as a child, he would grab the basketball every time. His mom used to try and keep him from playing in the Alabama heat to no avail.
When Ralston was 10 years old, his dad thought he needed more competition and got him on the AAU circuit. He played for the North Alabama Crusaders in Huntsville, Alabama and in the first game of AAU Nationals, he went up against the Atlanta Celtics, a team with a reputation of top teams. Ralston had 24 points. “Ok, I could do this. It proved to me that I belonged.” When he got to high school, he really began taking working out more seriously. “I’m a big believer in when you are young, you need to have fun. Burnout is a real thing and you have your entire life to make it a job. But my curiosity just kept increasing and increasing and increasing.” He began asking more questions and staying in the gym longer.
Impact of his parents
Ralston was blessed to have both parents in the household to have him with decisions. When Ralston was a freshmen, 15 years old, he played for the Alabama Challenge. He got moved up to the 17-under team and they played on the Nike circuit. In his first game at the Peach Jam, a prolific AAU tournament, he got in the game and hit 5-6 three pointers quickly. All of the sudden, his life changed. Recruiting picked up and his phone didn’t start ringing. His parents were great through that process. His mom is protective, and you couldn’t get anything past her. His parents came with him on nearly all of his college visits that helped him cross his T’s and dot his I’s.
Education is very important. His mom is an educator at Muscle ShoalsHigh School and her mother was as well. When he visited his grandmother, he would be reading and writing.
The realities of preparing for life after basketball
At 16, he was looking at high school rankings for the top players in the country, and he looked back at a few years classes before him and reading all of the names of the players, many of whom are not still playing basketball. "This is real. You need to make sure you have a plan.”
Later that year, as a sophomore attending the LeBron James Skills Academy with the top 100 players in the country, a Director at the camp pointed out 6-8 players to stand up, and said that the reality is that only 6-8 of the 100 will make it to the NBA. That’s the reality. "Ball is important but you need to be prepared for the realities."
When you are young, people tell you you need to go around and shake hands with people. He actually did it - introduced himself, shook hands, because if anything, one day he might need that person.
Early studies in college
Ralston initially was going to major in kinesiology when he joined LSU - human movement science. He was intrigued by being a Physical Therapist because he had been rehabbed. He then pivoted to sports management and expected to be in sports management and administration, as he had hopes to become an Athletic Director at a large Division I school.
Transitioning from LSU to NCSU
When he was looking to transfer, his coach at LSU gave him the ability to visit other schools but come back to LSU if he didn't find a better fit. His goals were to find a situation where he can make the NCAA Tournament, play with other great players, get an education and enjoy the experience. This was before the NCAA Transfer Portal, so he went to the LSU Compliance Office and learned he could not transfer within the SEC. NC State was on the top of his mind as he has known Coach Mark Gottfried since he was 14, as Coach Gottfried coached at Alabama and Ralston played AAU with his son. He visited NC State and immediately felt it was a great fit. He left Raleigh on Sunday and called Coach Gottfried the next day to join the Pack.
Experience at NC State
Not only was NC State better for him from a basketball sense, it was valuable off the court as well. The support in the ACC for basketball. "The way people feel in the Triangle about basketball is how they feel about football down here (SEC country)." They made it to the NCAA Tournament twice, played with great players, but the major thing he gives credit to NC State was preparing off the court. Raleigh is a great city - it is progressive, growing and a lot of opportunities are coming there. Players don't typically account for this when making a college decision. He met a lot of successful people.
In Spring 2015, he was in ACC play and was still zoned in on basketball. "This is it, so leave it all out there and worry about the rest later." They lost in the NCAA Tournament and it was a whirlwind after. He played in the College All-Star game at the NCAA Final Four, played in the Portsmouth Invitational for exceptional seniors, selected an agent, and worked out for the Hornets, Pistons, and Clippers. He ultimately didn't get drafted but got picked up by the Hornets for the NBA Summer League. "There's some power in going undrafted because you have a whole bunch of choices. No one really owns your rights."
He went oversees to play for BC Vita in the VTB League, one of the strongest leagues in Europe. This was BC Vita's first year in the league so the organization had a lower budget and needed young, unproven players to compete. Unfortunately, BC Vita struggled with corporate sponsors, and Ralston stopped getting paid early on, so he returned to America.
He landed in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the NBA G League. After one season in Grand Rapids, he joined the Greensboro Swarm (the Charlotte Hornets NBA G League affiliate), and loved being back close to the Triangle.
Transitioning in to business
Going in to his rookie year, he knew he could get hurt tomorrow. Ralston admired Kobe Bryant, not only on the court. Kobe once said that players should think about what your other interests outside of basketball are to apply yourself after your playing days. He took this to heart.
After his second year in the G League, he was expecting to continue to play basketball. He was seeking internships to get experience on his resume. He did not want his resume to be "basketball, basketball, basketball." He was trying to get experience to see what he liked and didn't like within business. Someone he knew since high school worked at Merrill Lynch and they got together to network. This individual asked him if he'd ever thought about being a Financial Advisor and the rest was history. It was never his dream to be a Financial Advisor, but he believes there is a higher power at work who has a plan.
Experience in financial advising
He enjoys financial advising because it allows him to educate and empower. Ralston feels like the black community and other underserved and underappreciated communities are not empowered financially.
Years before he started in financial advising, he did not understand the stock market. In his last year of college they went to the New York Stock Exchange and his mind was blown. Then, the next year when he was in NBA Summer League, at a Players Association meeting, they had someone speak about Financial Advising and this former player speaking shared that every player needs to understand their own personal finances to avoid the "sharks in the water." As he got in the business, you can learn it, but not without time invested.
"I felt like I needed to educate. I try to take the things I learn and pass it on. Helping people have a baseline knowledge - you don't need to be a guru, what you really need to know is how to be financially smart. How to save money and make a budget. How to make your money grow. What's credit? How does it work for you? All these basics - things I didn't learn when I was young to teach me these baseline financial things. Education and knowledge is power and I hope to give that to the next generation."
Staying connected to basketball
Ralston is the Junior Varsity coach at Muscle Shoals High Schools, where he went to school. He also gives skill lessons. Working with the youth to hone in on their skills and give a baseline of fundamental work to learn the game. "You get kids that have these bad habits and they are hard to break. It's not their fault, but they came to you like that."
"I was always a believer that you have to respect the game. If you respect the game, the game will reward you."
Expected NBA Champion
Lakers, he has faith in LeBron and AD until they give him a reason not to, but the Clippers make him nervous. Rockets as a dark horse.