UNCASVILLE, Conn. — To Storm coach Anne Donovan, there was no way rookie Barbara Turner could play power forward as a professional.
"From Day 1, the moment I stepped on the court, she said I would not be playing any post here," Turner said. "She really didn't want me to do it. She knew I had the capabilities but didn't want to put me there."
Then the injuries happened. Seattle's bigs began to fall like trees in a dilapidated forest.
Suddenly returning Turner to power forward, where she starred at the University of Connecticut, didn't seem such a bad idea.
In Turner's first game playing the role in the WNBA, against Chicago on Wednesday, she scored a season-high 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in a season-high 17 minutes.
Today against the Connecticut Sun, the UConn alumnus returns to her collegiate state and will again see time in the post because of injuries to Wendy Palmer and Tiffani Johnson. Palmer, the team's leading rebounder (7.6), is out at least four weeks with a partially torn left Achilles tendon. Johnson is a game-time decision because of a pulled groin.
The Sun (5-1) will be without veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a 6-foot-2 forward, leading Donovan to believe Turner could excel against forwards Le'Coe Willingham (6-0) and Laura Summerton (6-2) when Connecticut goes to its bench.
"She's awesome in that role as long as the matchup enables us to use her there," Donovan said of Turner, who turned 22 on Thursday.
In training camp, Turner and Palmer formed an immediate bond. Palmer, 31, taught Turner about the league and helped the rookie on the path to becoming a dependable professional.
Now that Palmer is out indefinitely, the nurturing role has reversed. It's Turner who is reminding Palmer not to sulk and continue her role as a veteran leader for the Storm. And with Turner playing a little power forward in Palmer's absence, there's an added perk.
"She's been my mini-coach outside of Coach," said Turner, who related to Palmer's injury because the youngster was sidelined with foot stress fractures her junior season at Connecticut. "She's really helped me out a lot at the four [power forward], talking to me a lot on the sideline and teaching me the plays, even though I already know some of them from watching."
Size is the biggest problem for the 5-foot-10 Turner, who agrees with the coaches' opinions that she is best suited to play small forward in the WNBA.
Her body type is reminiscent of Los Angeles forward Mwadi Mabika and San Antonio forward Marie Ferdinand — athletic All-Stars whom Donovan wants Turner to be like someday. The rookie needs to become consistent on offense and better at defending while facing the basket.
As a child, Turner figured to use her lean frame for track and field, following her mother's footsteps. But Turner instead followed brother Cameron to the basketball court — and never left.
Even when he made her cry.
"It was a cry for a reason, to make her tougher," said Cameron, 26. "She wanted to play with the big boys, all the older guys. But I had to tell her, you can't be crying when you get out there with them because they're gonna look at you [and say], 'Oh, you're a girl. Get off the court.' You gotta be tough. If somebody fouls you hard, you go up stronger."
By age 13, Turner said she wasn't crying anymore. She finally was able to execute the moves fluttering in her mind and command respect from the neighborhood guys.
Now she is earning the respect of her WNBA teammates.
"She's the ideal rookie," Donovan said. "She's eager to learn and get along with absolutely everyone. She's a joy to be around, and her humor is infectious."
Turner may not have the hype or stats of other rookies like Seimone Augustus (Minnesota) or Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix), drafted No. 1 and 2 overall. But Turner's potential seems just as high.
"The rookie class is strong," Storm guard Betty Lennox said. "It shows you the bright future we have for the WNBA."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com
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