Brianna Turner solidifies place as leader on Irish squad after overcoming injury
Elizabeth Greason | Tuesday, March 14, 2017
“Get the ball to Bri.”
It has been said time and again this season, by various members of the Irish roster, to the point it nearly sounds like a team mantra.
Irish junior forward Brianna Turner has been an integral part of the team from the first moment she stepped on the court in a Notre Dame uniform. Turner’s prowess on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball shone through from day one. She led the country with a .652 field-goal percentage her freshman year while also picking up 89 blocks and 283 rebounds.
Turner’s success has continued as her career has progressed. The 6-foot-3, low-post player was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the All-ACC first team this season before helping lead the Irish to a fourth consecutive ACC title. She was also named a second-team All-American by ESPNW on Sunday.
But Turner’s path to this success has not been completely smooth sailing. In fact, it has been quite the opposite.
Much of Turner’s career has been plagued by serious injuries. She was forced to miss three games her freshman year after dislocating her right shoulder and six games her sophomore year as she dealt with an injury to the same shoulder, culminating in surgery on that shoulder during the offseason after her sophomore campaign. Turner’s grit shone through, though, as she often had to play through excruciating pain in an attempt simply to make it through the 2015-2016 season, she said.
The surgery left Turner in a difficult and questionable position, as no one was exactly sure when the star forward would be able to play again, or whether she would play this season at all.
“This offseason, I was really just rehabbing my shoulder,” Turner said Monday. “Just working on shoulder rehab with our trainer. Lifting one-pound weights and some simple movements. … I didn’t get cleared to play until the month practiced started probably until five-on-five.”
That rehabbing paid off, however. Turner has played and started in all 33 of Notre Dame’s games so far this season and is averaging over 29 minutes on the court each game, second only to Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen. In fact, Turner said she feels she has finally turned a corner in her recovery, as she has been pain-free since December, when she started playing without the brace that had become a familiar sight.
“At the beginning of the season, I was, of course, still in my brace, but I’ve been out of it since I think December,” Turner said Monday. “So, it’s just really great. I don’t worry about it rebounding, shooting [or] blocking shots, so when I go out there, I’m not worried about my shoulder at all. … I think the brace was kind of like, ‘Well, that means something’s still not 100 percent.’ So, when I got out of the brace, I felt like, ‘This thing is fixed. No more worries.’”
Despite playing a limited role in practice before the season began, Turner said she was able to dive back into the offense once she was cleared to play.
“I’d never played with [the freshmen] before, but I was playing with these guys for the past couple years, and I think I was able to jump into [the offense] pretty well,” Turner said Monday.
Turner is a quiet powerhouse on the court. But her huge personality and comedic tendencies shine through the moment a game ends.
She is vocal lover of “Taco Tuesday,” a weekly special at a restaurant near campus. She cracks jokes and laughs throughout post-game press conferences. She is an active Twitter user, constantly poking fun at friends and teammates. And this personality has helped Turner gain the respect and admiration of her teammates, as she has found herself in a new position this season: that of a leader, both on and off the court.
“My leadership role is very different from what it was my freshman year,” Turner said Monday. “Just being an upperclassman now and just being able to play significant minutes and just being able to be there for [my teammates] and give them advice from some of my past experiences.”
Turner’s leadership has yielded individual results as well. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year currently leads the Irish in rebounds and blocks. According to Turner, her defensive success is a direct result of her desire to help her teammates.
“I just really try to be there to help [my teammates out],” Turner said Feb. 28. “Whether it’s players going to the basket or just trying to alter their shot if I can’t block it or grabbing rebounds, I’m just really trying to be there to help my teammates out. … I just really pride myself on defense and just being in front of my man or just helping out or rotating over. Just really trying to start in practice and make it translate over to the games.”
Offensively, Turner requires a different approach. The Princeton-style offense McGraw runs — which is characterized by its fast pace and constant passing to spread the ball offensively — poses a bit of a problem with Turner in the lineup. Turner camps underneath the basket, forcing her teammates to look inside for her. And when she gets the ball in the paint, she almost always shoots. The post player has not attempted a single 3-point shot in her three years. But McGraw is willing to sacrifice the Princeton offense when Turner is on the floor, as she has reiterated throughout the season. When she’s on the court, McGraw wants her team to constantly look inside. She wants her players to “get the ball to Bri.”
But sacrifice probably is not the right word to describe the offensive compromise McGraw has made, seeing as Turner is Notre Dame’s leading scorer with 514 points this season.
As Turner helps prepare her team for the NCAA tournament, Lindsay Allen is at the forefront of her mind, as this tournament will be Allen’s last.
“We’re just really excited going into the tournament,” Turner said Monday. “We’ve had some bumps in the road this season, but we’re not going to let anything slow us down. We’re just really ready for whatever comes at us. … This is going to be my last run here with L.A., so I’m just trying to make it a great one for both of us.”