Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner's decision to sit 'in her best interests'

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The thought of stirring in a player the caliber of Brianna Turner right as Notre Dame encounters the meat of its women’s basketball schedule next January might sound delicious to Irish fans at first mention.

But it’s not necessarily the best thing for Turner, or even for Notre Dame.

So says the second-team All-American forward’s father, a former college player who has dealt with two torn anterior cruciate ligaments of his own.

“Any type of major injury, there’s a psychological part to coming back, and there’s also coming back out of basketball shape,” Howard Turner said Thursday by phone. “That would hurt her, and you’re also changing the team chemistry (with a mid-season return). That could hurt the team.”

Brianna Turner suffered a torn ACL to her left knee March 19 during ND’s 88-82 overtime victory over Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. She underwent surgery and has since been involved in rehabilitation.

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said earlier this week that Turner will sit out all of the coming season — despite the fact that Turner is expected to be 100 percent healthy by January — but will return in 2018-19 for a final season of eligibility.

“I’ll be sitting out this upcoming 2017-18 season and focusing on making a complete recovery,” Turner concurred in a statement released late Wednesday night by Notre Dame. “I look forward to returning to the court next season and working toward our goal of winning a national championship.”

ND declined earlier Wednesday to make Turner available for an interview, “especially with the whole staff leaving for the rest of the week” for Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement activities in Springfield, Mass.

McGraw is among the class of 2017 inductees being honored Thursday through Saturday.

The coach said this week that she discussed Turner’s return with her and with Turner’s parents, “and we all agree it’s in her best interests for her to sit out the year.”

Howard Turner said his daughter still has WNBA aspirations, but he’s hopeful that delaying a possible pro career by a year will pay off in the long run.

“She’s just really concentrating on getting back on the court 100 percent healthy and not taking any chances on having a setback,” Howard Turner said.

“Really, from her freshman year, when she had a dislocated shoulder and it lingered into the next year, she’s had something every year,” Howard Turner pointed out. “She hasn’t had a full year for her body to heal properly. It’s in her best interests to get completely healthy, and that’s what it boiled down to.”

Minus Turner, the top-seeded Irish cruised by Ohio State 99-76 in the Sweet 16 last season, but fell 76-75 to No. 2 seed Stanford in the Lexington Regional final to finish 33-4.

“She is where she’s supposed to be,” Howard Turner said of how his daughter’s rehab efforts are going, “but she’s still got a lot of of work ahead of her to get back to 100 percent. She’s not running or doing a lot of other stuff, but she is working on range of motion and strength.”

Howard Turner, 50, sustained his own ACL tears roughly 25 years ago while competing in the Texas Police Olympics, following his playing career at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

“This is just me saying this, so it might be different for Bri, but even now, all these years, I’m still not 100 percent sure, still second-guess myself a lot on my movement, so there is a period of self-doubt with this injury,” Turner said. “You do have to get comfortable with jumping and landing again. That’s a big part of her game.”

Not that it’s been easy for his daughter to decide to delay her return, either.

“Bri’s definitely a competitor,” Howard Turner said, “so it was a hard decision for her. In the past, she hasn’t always put the pain first, but in this instance, she had to think about being 100 percent.”

Brianna Turner is on schedule to graduate in May, according to her father, and would play next season as a graduate student.

Without Turner

With Turner definitely sidelined, the Irish will be exploring other interior options.

A dramatic boost could come soon if the NCAA grants Notre Dame’s recent request for a hardship waiver on behalf of junior transfer Jessica Shepard.

McGraw said Tuesday that the Irish expect to know “in a week or two” whether the waiver will be granted. It would make Shepard eligible without having to sit out a year.

The 6-foot-4 Shepard, a transfer from Nebraska, averaged 18.6 points and 9.8 rebounds as a sophomore for the Cornhuskers last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.

As a freshman, she averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 boards, and was a first-team all-league pick.

Other veteran forward options include 6-2 senior Kathryn Westbeld, who averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per game last season, and 6-4 graduate student Kristina Nelson, who finished at 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per outing.

Also on the roster are a pair of freshmen in 6-3 center Mikayla Vaughn, a first-team all-stater from Fairfax, Va., and 6-2 McDonald’s All-American Danielle Patterson, a Brooklyn, N.Y., product viewed as a small forward.

No matter the mix, Turner won’t be easy to replace at either end of the court. She’s the reigning two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and offensively, the three-year starter has shot 62.2 percent from the field to rank second in program history. She carries career averages of 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds.

Spared by Harvey

Howard Turner said Thursday that his family’s home in Pearland, Texas — about 17 miles from Houston — largely escaped Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, but between neighbors and his work as a police officer, “I know of a lot of people whose homes were destroyed.”

Turner said the lone damage at his home was to a fence.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner (11) turns with the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida State Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 79-61. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN