Brianna Turner learning pace of college game

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Sky’s the limit for Brianna Turner.

Notre Dame women’s basketball fans are going to enjoy four years of that special talent.

At 6-foot-3 (actually 6-6, if the well-stacked hair on the top of her head is used as the peak), with a team-best 33-inch vertical jump, hands big enough to grip a basketball, and oodles of athletic talent, the highly-touted talent seems destined to be a dynamic performer.

When she’s ready.

Twenty-eight days before the exhibition debut against Ferris State, nobody associated with the Irish program – not even Turner – is ready to project her as an instant asset.

But, then again, nobody’s discounting the possibility, either.

Painfully shy and quite humble, Turner downplayed the significance of the Gatorade Athlete of the Year award that she won last spring.

“I don’t care about any of that anymore," Turner said. “That happened in high school. (The awards) are great, but I want to leave them behind and look forward to my four years here.”

“She’s really unselfish,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “She’s very much a team player. She just wants to contribute any way she can.

“We want her to focus on defense and rebounding, initially; just get comfortable in the offense because she’s going to play a really big role for us.”

McGraw and assistant coach Carol Owens, who is in charge of Notre Dame’s post players, liken Turner’s style of play to Devereaux Peters (2007-12), who was an athletic post despite battling knee problems her entire career.

“Once we get Brianna where we need her to be, it poses a situation like when Devereaux was here: How are we going to score; how are we going to get Dev out of the paint so we can have our driving opportunities,” Owens said. “We’re hoping (opponents) have to worry about Brianna Turner and her presence on both ends of the floor.”

Defensively, McGraw envisions Turner as the point on the Irish press, a difficult obstacle to throw a pass around as a trap is happening.

Will Turner start?

“If we want to get the tip,” McGraw said with a laugh. “She’s working very hard and she’s a very smart player. She’s picking things up quickly. I imagine in a couple weeks she’ll show us (she’s ready).

“I want her to lead the team in rebounding, blocked shots, and then, offensively, just get comfortable.

“She can run the floor and score in transition. She’s going to really help us in the press, which is something we haven’t had in a couple years.

“She’ll be that Devereaux Peters-type person at the top of the press that can really cause some havoc up there. Scoring won’t be her main focus.”

Turner, whose mother was a player at the University of Houston, and whose father played at Lamar University, isn’t predicting that she will take the college basketball world by storm anytime soon.

“My goal is to evolve into a college player – get stronger and quicker,” Turner said. “It’s kind of surreal. Wow, I have an opportunity to go to the Final Four and win a national championship.”

“Her attitude’s been awesome,” said Owens. “She’s kinda like a sponge, soaking it all in. (She’s a) very quiet kid. She’s had a lot of accolades come along in her high school career and USA Basketball. But for us, we don’t want to put a lot of pressure on her. She’s still a freshman.

“She’s still learning a lot. These first couple of practices are tough. She’s gotta get used to the pace and the physical part of the game.

“The biggest thing is getting her to understand her scoring opportunities within our offense. Defensively, she’ll be fine because she has the footspeed.”

Irish sophomore Taya Reimer walked in Turner’s shoes, as a national player of the year. She had that target on her back and had to work through the adjustment period.

“This level, everybody is so much better (than anything she has already faced),” Reimer said. “It’s more physical; quicker. You have to be on it mentally.

“That’s something all freshmen have to struggle with; knowing where you’re supposed to be offensively and defensively.

“Bri’s an amazing athlete. Just knowing the game, the little things, (is so important). She’s going to be a great player when she gets all that together.”

How long did it take Reimer?

“I’m still working on getting it all together,” Reimer said with a laugh. “We’ll see.”

One thing Turner can do that nobody else on the Notre Dame roster can do is dunk. She said she’s been slamming it down since her sophomore year in high school.

As for doing it in front of a packed house on national TV …

“It will take some time for her to actually be comfortable enough to do it,” Owens said.

“It’ll be a surprise for everyone,” Turner said with a smile.

And, man, will Irish fans get pumped when it happens.

Notre Dame freshman Brianna Turner could be a staple in the Irish starting lineup for the next four years. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)