Notre Dame's Brianna Turner says she's at 100 percent, bad news for Irish opponents

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND

Brianna Turner didn’t want others to document her progress, to film her progress, to even ask about her progress as she recovered from her devastating knee injury.

The Notre Dame All-American just wanted to get to 100 percent of her former self.

On her own terms, at her own pace.

Well, look out women’s college basketball world — Brianna Turner’s at 100 percent.

“I’m completely (back), completely done (with rehab),” Turner said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve probably felt a hundred percent since right before the (Aug. 1-Aug. 8) foreign tour.”

That tremor you may have just felt is from the rest of the women’s game over Turner’s news.

After all, the Irish not only return four highly decorated stars from last season’s national title team in Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Marina Mabrey and Jackie Young, but can now blend in by virtue of the 6-foot-3 Turner a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year who provides a presence at that end unlike any the team featured in 2017-18.

“I think we’re all excited,” Turner said of a season that’s still six weeks away from the first official practice and about 12 weeks from the first game. “We have four of our five starters returning (graduated Kat Westbeld the exception), we brought in four incredible freshmen. We have a really experienced team, and with me coming back, that is kind of a new dynamic.”

A dynamic that only adds to coach Muffet McGraw’s eagerness as ND gets set to embark on a quest for the program’s first-ever back-to-back national titles.

“I thought the best thing about going on the tour was just seeing (Turner) get back to her old self,” McGraw said Wednesday of the trip to Italy and Croatia that included three exhibition games. “She looked to like she was very comfortable, not tentative, very confident.”

That’s how Turner longed to look while she recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament she suffered in her left knee as a junior during Notre Dame’s 88-82 overtime win against Purdue during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament just over 17 months ago.

It’s a look, too, that Turner preferred to chase without too many witnesses.

She acknowledges she didn’t want every bit of her rehab documented, even in house, didn’t even want TV cameras catching glimpses of her doing individual work during practices and didn’t want to conduct repeated interviews on her status.

“I kind of felt like I wanted to go through my rehab on my own, behind the cameras,” Turner said. “I didn’t feel like it was necessary to film every (step). As for the (interviews), I felt like it was going to be the same questions and answers. ‘Are you cleared yet? Are you cleared yet? When will you be cleared?’ It would’ve been the same questions every month.”

Those questions would’ve served as painful reminders.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Turner said of her extended layoff as the rest of the Irish played on. “This is obviously the longest I’ve gone without playing since I started basketball as a kid, but it was still fun, still remarkable to see the resiliency of our team last year, their fight and how tough they were as they persevered through all the adversity we faced.”

That adversity included a stunning three more players — senior guard Mychal Johnson in late October, freshman center Mikayla Vaughn in late November and grad transfer guard Lili Thompson on Dec. 31 — sustaining season-ending ACL tears.

Vaughn, with four seasons of eligibility remaining, is expected to be cleared to practice in October, according to McGraw, while Johnson and Thompson have wrapped up their Irish playing careers.

“I was obviously very shocked by it,” Turner said of seeing three teammates suffer injuries similar to hers. “There were kind of no words for it.”

Each of the other fallen players hunted out positives and expressed them during the season. Turner wasn’t as publicly expressive, but says she did likewise.

“Just maintaining that positive mindset and knowing that this wasn’t a career-ending injury,” Turner said of how she coped. “I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m on crutches. I can’t run yet, I can’t jump yet, but I’m looking forward to the next step.’”

Originally, after Turner’s injury, there was speculation she might be full-go by the following January, and would thus go ahead and use her final season of eligibility in 2017-18.

Instead, she announced last September she would sit out the entire season and play for the Irish in 2018-19.

“We didn’t want to rush it,” Turner said of a decision made with input from family, doctors and McGraw. “I think trying to aim for January might’ve been rushed. I think it worked out for the best.”

With a Notre Dame degree in graphic design secured, Turner is hopeful of playing professionally after this season, either in the WNBA, overseas or both.

During the three-game foreign tour, Turner averaged 12.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and collected 10 of the 16 blocked shots the Irish registered as a team. She played 23.7 minutes an outing.

Turner began scrimmaging in June, but the tour was different, going against actual opponents.

“It was great to get back out there with my teammates and have that experience before the new season starts,” Turner said. “It just felt really good to be back on the court after (17) months since I actually played a game.”

During her junior season, Turner averaged 15.3 points, second to Ogunbowale’s 15.9, and team-leading figures of 7.1 boards and 2.5 blocks. She shot a team-best 61.9 percent from the field.

For her career, she stands second in Irish history in both field goal percentage (62.2) and blocks (263). She’ll need 107 blocks this season to match Ruth Riley’s program standard.

Asked Wednesday if she’s added any new elements to her game, Turner turned coy.

“You’ll have to wait and see,” she said with a smile. “You’ll have to wait and see.”

One thing she didn’t leave a mystery, though, was whether her injury will affect her approach.

“I’m going to go out there and play,” Turner said. “If I get hurt again, I get hurt again, but I’m not about to play scared.”

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner, shown blocking a shot by Tennessee’s Bashaara Graves in 2016, returns to active service for the defending national champions this season. She trails Ruth Riley’s career blocked shot record by 107.
Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner holds the trophy as she finds someone to take a photo of her and Maureen Butler after April’s title game. Turner hopes to contribute to another championship.
Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner was forced to watch her teammates win without her after suffering an ACL injury last season.