After not seeing a ton of game action in the first half of last season, Brianna Turner’s minutes escalated in the second half of her rookie campaign as she began to showcase her tremendous potential in the paint.
With veteran bigs Brittney Griner, DeWanna Bonner, Camille Little and Sancho Lyttle all ahead of her to begin the season, Turner found herself averaging just 3.9 minutes per game throughout the first 18 games. While the low and inconsistent minutes would normally bother a first-round pick, Turner understood the process and focused her attention on preparation and adjustment to the league.
“In the beginning of the season I wasn’t really playing as much, but that didn’t stop my work ethic,” Turner said. “I was still doing extra workouts at our practice. Keeping a positive mindset, I wasn’t really getting down on myself about it. Then, when an opportunity came for me to play more, I was ready because I had been preparing for the entire season. So, when my name was called to play more, I was in a good position.”
Although she had the veterans ahead of her on the depth chart and knew she had to compete with them for playing time, Turner took the opportunity to learn from them and find ways to grow her own game in the process.
“We had so many vets last year,” Turner said. “It was a really great experience getting to learn from them. They were so knowledgeable playing for so long. Just coming from college and knowing that it’s really easy to get down on yourself and really easy to let your game stop flowing when you get in your head. So, I just try to make sure that I let things flow easily.”
While she may not have been spending a ton of time on the court during games, her worth ethic off of it caught the eye of her head coach early on.
“The biggest thing is she just came to work every single day,” Head Coach Sandy Brondello said. “She was very committed. While she didn’t talk a lot at the start, she stayed ready. I didn’t know this until later in the season, but when we’d get off a plane, she’d organize workouts with our player development coach as soon as we’d get off the plane. That says a lot about her wanting to get better. You’re not pushing her to do it.”
And once she finally got her opportunity, she shined.
Turner played in all 16 games to wrap up the season, earning a spot in the starting lineup for 12 of them while averaging 26.8 minutes per game. As injuries began to take a toll on the Mercury roster, Turner stepped up to the opportunity and took advantage of the available time.
In those final 16 games, she averaged 6.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game as she became a force in the paint on a nightly basis. Turner had an offensive rebound percentage of 11.6 percent which ranked sixth among the entire league as she dominated the offensive glass.
“Honestly, I think I have to give a lot of credit to BG because she’s just such a force inside,” Turner said. “I think a lot of people just gravitate towards her to box her out. So, then I would sneak in there and grab the rebounds. I’m just trying to get an inside position and whenever a shot goes up be in the right position.”
Brondello believes that the time Turner spent on the sidelines studying the team played dividends once the opportunity presented itself.
“She had been observing for so long that she got used to seeing not just the way the system is run, but also how to play with her teammates, in particular BG,” Brondello said. “She’s a student of the game. She just got herself ready and when she had that opportunity, she grabbed it with two hands.”
While Turner credits Griner for assisting her on the court, she also challenged many of her rookie records.
On August 20th, Turner matched Griner’s franchise record for most blocked shots in a game by a Mercury rookie with six against Las Vegas.
She became just the 10th rookie in WNBA history to have at least six blocks in a game, joining the all-time leader in blocks Margo Dydek, Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffith, Tina Charles, Candace Parker, Natasha Howard, Kiah Stokes, A’ja Wilson and Griner. Eight of those ten went on to be named to a WNBA All-Defensive Team at least once in their career, the only two who haven’t thus far are Wilson (2018 Rookie of the Year) and Turner.
“The WNBA, we have so many great defensive players,” Turner said. “So many great shot blockers. So, it’s just like exciting to have my name tossed in that.”
To tie Wilson in more, four of Turner’s six blocks were against the two-time All-Star as Turner tied the record against some of the best players in the league. But despite whoever she was playing against, Turner keeps the same mindset every time she steps on the hardwood.
“She’s such a phenomenal player,” Turner said about Wilson. “I feel like I try to keep the same intensity no matter who I’m playing, whether it’s her or somebody else. Really just not taking any opponent for granted. It’s the WNBA. Everyone is going to be good no matter who I’m playing against. So, making sure I match the opponent’s intensity.”
This wasn’t the only record Turner tied as she also matched Griner’s franchise record for most rebounds in a game by a Mercury rookie with 14 on Aug. 8 against Los Angeles. Turner was honored to reach these records and takes pride in playing next to one of the greatest of all time.
“BG’s such a phenomenal player,” Turner said. “She’s going to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame one day. So, to match a couple of her records, it was really exciting to happen.”
Her lockdown defense and effort in the paint earned her to be named to both the Associated Press and WNBA All-Rookie Teams. Since the WNBA All-Rookie Team was created in 2005, Turner is the fifth player in Mercury history to be selected, joining Cappie Pondexter (2006), DeWanna Bonner (2009), Samantha Prahalis (2012) and Griner (2013).
“I honestly didn’t see it coming because I wasn’t really as productive in the first half of the season,” Turner said. “But it was really exciting to me and it’s cool to be representing the team with my former college teammates as well. It was really awesome to be named to the team. I really like playing in Phoenix and being in Phoenix and learning from the team and being coached by Sandy.”
Following her impressive rookie campaign, Turner followed the trend of most WNBA players as she signed overseas to play for the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL.
“Australia, I think was an easy transition because they speak English and their seasons flop,” Turner said. “So, it was summertime when I was there. The city I was in, it was a smaller city, like not as big as Sydney, but I think it was a good size for me. I live like five minutes from the beach. So, it was really, everything was really nice and close.”
The lifestyle transition was easy, but her game transition went to an entirely new level as she built off her first season in the WNBA.
“Going into the season, I really wanted to average a double-double,” Turner said. “So, I really wanted to be focused on rebounding and defense, especially, and just kind of let my offense flow from there.”
To say that she reached that goal would be an understatement. Turner dominated overseas, leading her team in points (16.8), rebounds (10.7) and blocks (2.4), while being the only player in the entire WNBL to rank top five in each of these categories (including first in blocks).
“Just going out there every night with the intensity,” Turner said. “I’m playing every game hard and doing what I can do to help the team.”
Turner recorded nine double-doubles in 23 games, including one that was a season-best 26-point, 17-rebound outing and another that was a 16-point, season-high 24-rebound performance. Her dominant play in Australia led her to be named runner up in the WNBL MVP voting, finishing just six points behind WNBA All-Star Kia Nurse.
“Kia Nurse, she’s such a phenomenal player,” Turner said. “She really carried her team at times overseas. It’s really awesome and be in the same category and finish just a few points behind her. So, I think overall I had a really successful first overseas season.”
Turner added that finishing second just adds “more fuel to the fire” as she begins to prepare for the 2020 Mercury season at the Madhouse.
“I’m excited for us to be playing in our new arena and our fans, our X-Factor, are going to be in there, be loud and be ready,” Turner said.
She already showed the X-Factor a glimpse of what she is capable of, but wants to elevate that performance to another level in her sophomore campaign.
“I think a goal for me would be to make an All-Defensive team,” Turner said.
Professional basketball returns to The Madhouse, as Turner and the Phoenix Mercury bring their quest for a record-tying fourth WNBA Championship to Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the original home of the Phoenix Suns. Join superstars Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and the X-Factor at one of basketball’s loudest venues.
Tickets can be purchased by calling 602.252.WNBA or by visiting PhoenixMercury.com.