The car service driver guides his vehicle slowly enough through the outer edges of downtown Cleveland that Barbara Turner can inhale many of her childhood memories. She points to her old house and wonders aloud where is the milk crate that she and her older brother Cameron used for a basketball goal.
The neighborhood gymnasium appears after a measured turn around the block. This is where Turner developed his basketball skills playing against several of the best boys in the area.
About 4 miles west, directly across from a cluster of public housing apartments managed by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, is East Technical High School. It’s the same East Tech that produced Olympic gold medalists Jesse Owens and Harrison Dillard, and Jack Trice, the only black man whose name graces a Division I football stadium.
One of the most decorated and celebrated female athletes in Cleveland history is on a business trip with the Houston Rockets. She is entering her alma mater’s building for the first time in 10 years due to her engaging schedule.
The wait has been far too long.
“The last time I was here I remember being excited about what I had accomplished, but also having some anxiety as I enter the next chapter of my life,” said Turner.
Turner helped galvanize a community by leading an unlikely women’s basketball team to an all-time title in the state of Ohio. She went on to become a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Connecticut, played in the WNBA and in Turkey. Turner is currently one of the few female player development coaches in the NBA and one of seven women listed as an assistant coach. She was also inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
All from someone who grew up in Cleveland, the poorest large city in the country (30% of residents and 46% of children live below the poverty line), where violent crime has reached historic levels .
Although now a resident of Houston, Cleveland remains Turner’s home.
“This is my home because this is where I am loved after shining the spotlight on downtown Cleveland and showing people that you can get by in any condition or circumstance,” Turner said. . “I am eternally grateful and indebted to the city of Cleveland.”
East Tech plays in one of the oldest public school conferences in the state city, but has never had a reputation for success in women’s basketball. Budget cuts have limited schools to just a list of universities, omitting freshmen and freshmen, and many of the top players are enrolling in private school programs.
For Turner, it was important for her to stay in the community and achieve what no other school in her conference had before. She also found a lot of motivation when she turned down a coach’s offer to play for a private school.
“He said he was giving me a chance of a lifetime, and if I stayed at East Tech, I would become just another statistic,” Turner said. “I never forgot those words. So every time we played them I wanted to destroy it. Whenever I wanted to accomplish something, I kept those words in my head.
Those words weren’t enough to help East Tech progress past the state semifinals, Turner’s graduate and undergraduate years. As he neared his senior year, a stress fracture in his right shin threatened to wipe out his final season in high school and a chance at a state championship.
“I was crying boo-hoo,” Turner said. “But my driving force was that I wanted to bring something positive to East Tech and the area we call ‘Down the Way’. I wasn’t going to allow this to stop me.
This is not the case.
To relieve his leg, Turner didn’t train all season and only played games. Despite its limitations, East Tech had an incredible run and the community supported success with crowded gyms, even unheard of in boys’ games.
“We were leaving work early to see their games,” said local barber Ted Lighting. “I would compare the atmosphere here to Chicago’s reaction to the Bulls. [championship] time.”
“The neighborhood turned to us,” said Mel Burke, then assistant coach for East Tech. “It was the paradise of downtown projects. Fans fed us, raised money to buy player socks, and fans raised money for t-shirts to wear at the state game. Support was off the charts.
And the East Tech Mighty Scarabs didn’t disappoint in the 2002 National Finals. Turner led his school to the Division II Championship with 30 points and nine rebounds. Shortly after her state title victory, Turner was named Ms. Ohio Basketball and a member of the McDonald’s All American team.
“We had a sort of celebration in our gymnasium with the students and with most of the people who would come around to see us play,” said Turner. “I remember feeling so happy and satisfied that we accomplished everything we set out to do by winning a championship and bringing some positivity to the community.”
The next chapter
Turner’s basketball career continued at UConn, where she was a member of two NCAA title teams and ranks among the Huskies’ all-time top scorers and rebounders. During her career, she was named the Big East Tournament MVP and was a member of the Big East Tournament All-Around Team.
There was a period of adjustment despite Turner’s success on the court. The additional competition pushed her.
“There was a lot of pressure at UConn because of what was expected,” Turner said. “They were super good and on a great race when I got there. And that was the first time I was in an environment where all 11 players were stars in high school.
“I’ve always been afraid of failure, and what helps me overcome my fear of failure is my drive to want to be successful. Success is my only result.
The success continued as she became the 11th overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm. Turner had an average WNBA career from 2006-2009, but it was more consistent in Turkey, one of the top leagues abroad. She recently completed her 15th professional season and is a naturalized Turkish citizen. Once she became a citizen, Turner chose the name Bahar Ozturk (Bahar means spring in English; Ozturk is the last name of the owner of the team that helped her get a passport), which she did by respect for the country and the culture.
“I took advantage of playing abroad because I was able to have a longer career,” Turner said. “I won a lot of money. I embraced the country and learned the culture of a country that I have come to love.
The time in Turkey is when the training bug started to bite Turner. She began to take a close look at European male stars such as Luka Dončić, Cedi Osman and Furkan Korkmaz.
“It gave me an idea of what to look for and how I can help guys get better,” Turner said. “It started my passion for working in player development. “
Make the NBA transition
Turner worked as an intern with the Rockets last summer under mentor John Lucas, a former NBA coach who has been an assistant to the Rockets since 2016. Turner has known Lucas since he helped train them while he was the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. from 2001 to 2003.
At the end of 2020, Turner came to a turning point and sought help from his mentor.
“I don’t know if I would call it depression, but there was a point where I was really lost because I didn’t know what was coming next,” Turner said. “Lucas asked me what I wanted to do and I said player development. He let me in.
With the Rockets, Turner worked on off-season practices, pre-draft practices, and camps with NBA prospects, and helped Lucas on his personal camps. Once the Rockets drafted Turkish center Alperen Şengün in July, a door of opportunity opened. She was hired to translate for Şengün and assist the team at the Summer League in Las Vegas.
“I had a conversation with Coach [Stephen] He and Silas told me what my role would be, and the rest is history, ”Turner said.
In his position, Turner is not only responsible for translation for Şengün, but also for training young players and distributing videos for the coaching staff with a focus on the team’s offensive playbook. .
“Barbara has all four components of training,” Lucas said. “She’s been a counselor, she’s been a mentor, she teaches the game and one of her greatest assets is positive confrontation. She knows how to challenge young men without offending them.
Turner’s last trip to Turner’s house had a few challenges once she walked through the empty halls of East Tech. Her tour guide, athletic director Leroy Carter, eagerly awaited her return to show Turner that she has never been forgotten.
It all started with a visit to the gym. The state championship banner hangs on the wall behind a basket, and a Turner poster sits behind the basket on the opposite end. From there, a walk to a trophy case reveals the relics of two of the greatest – Owens and Dillard – as well as a Turner banner.
Finally, there is a trip to the indoor school track. A painting by Turner, along with his citation after the state title, causes her to stop.
“She probably thought we forgot her and she almost got emotional,” Carter said. “We always talk about her here and use her life as an example for our students to strive for excellence.”
Turner managed to hold back her tears, but she couldn’t control the mounting emotions.
“I felt extremely proud,” she said. “Probably even more than when I won the national championship in college, because winning here was like a national championship.
“I can’t express how proud I am of myself and to be able to do what I have accomplished coming out of East Tech. It will always be something that will be part of my heritage.