August 20, 2023
How assistant coach Barbara Turner is making a difference for Dream
Turner's long journey from the hardwoods to the sideline
ATLANTA — Atlanta Dream assistant coach Barbara Turner was communicating with rookie guard Haley Jones from the sideline after a defensive stop in the second quarter of the Dream’s home victory over the Chicago Sky on Aug. 18.
Turner is the loudest on the Dream bench, but she’s also the first to clap and hype her players after a made basket or defensive stand.
“My coaching style goes along with my relationship building [approach] because I’m such a people person,” Turner told The Next. “I have the ability to attract people and bring good energy, which I incorporate into my coaching style. Also, there’s a level of intensity because I still have a competitive nature from when I played.”
Turner, a former standout on UConn’s 2003 and 2004 championship teams, was selected by the Seattle Storm as the No. 11 overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft. In her rookie season with the Storm, Turner’s bench partner was Tanisha Wright, a second-year, multi-position defensive ace at 5’11.
In 2004, UConn defeated Wright and Penn State by 17 points in the Elite Eight, backed by Turner’s 26-point effort to advance to clinch a fifth straight Final Four appearance.
“Tanisha and I have been friends since we played against each other in college, while she was at Penn State,” Turner on her relationship with Wright. “She has always been a mentor to me, even in that season in 2006 with the Storm. We have maintained that friendship throughout our careers, even when we crossed paths as competitors.”
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Turner was cut by the Storm in the following training camp. Soon thereafter, she signed a one-year contract with the Houston Comets. She would spend two additional seasons in the WNBA – both with the Connecticut Sun – before exclusively playing overseas.
From 2008 to 2020, Turner played with clubs across Turkey, becoming a naturalized citizen and fluent in the Turkish language. During her offseasons, starting in 2019, she interned under Rockets lead assistant John Lucas II, helping him with player development, individual workouts and group workouts with NBA draft prospects.
“I actually started to get into coaching at the end of my professional career. I was doing internships with the Rockets in the summer over the last three years under the player development bubble,” Turner said. “After COVID, I decided to retire, then I interned with the Rockets over the summer [again] and things took off from there.”
Houston hired Turner in a full-time role as a player development assistant for the 2021 season, while she also served as a translator for Turkish rookie center Alperen Sengun.
“Barbara has all the four components of coaching,” Lucas told Andscape’s Branson Wright in Jan. 2022. “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 is a student of the game and gained a love for coaching with the Rockets, which only continued to progress.
“I learned that I have a gift with coaching,” Turner said. “I learned a lot from [former Rockets head coach] Stephen Silas about work ethic, putting the time in, and doing individual workouts with players; I started from the bottom with that mentality and kept working my way up.”
After a season with the Rockets, Turner was hired as an assistant coach under Wright, her former teammate and friend, for the 2022 season on Wright’s first coaching staff as a WNBA head coach.
“Barbara’s hire is special to me personally as she is a young, talented basketball mind and understands the game,” Wright said in a press release in March 2022. “As a former player herself, Turner had to develop and grow her game to play at the highest level which will help our players connect with her on a different level. She is a young talent whose career is just beginning to take off, and we’re lucky to have the chance to bring her to Atlanta.”
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Atlanta’s coaching trio of Vickie Johnson, Wright, and Turner makes it one of three teams in the league with three or more former WNBA players serving as head or assistant coaches, alongside the Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx.
“It always helps to be around someone that did what you’re looking to do at a high level,” Turner said of the representation of former players as coaches in the WNBA. “It builds a certain amount of trust as a player because they know what they’re talking about.”
Turner loves to have fun and bring joy to the locker room. On June 9, ahead of Atlanta’s matchup against the Liberty, each player sported customized buttons with Turner’s face on them for her birthday.
“Barb loves her birthday, I learned that this past week,” Haley Jones told the media. “She’s been talking about it for a week now, so yesterday, we sang happy birthday, she got a little birthday dance on in the circle and then, Allisha Gray’s sister makes pins, so we’ve worn them for warmups.”
Even beyond her Xs and Os knowledge, Turner plays a pivotal role as an assistant on the playoff-contending Dream down the stretch. It is her ability to command attention with her voice and actions, motivate players, and bring enthusiasm every day through the grueling 40-game WNBA season that brings a much-needed jolt to the team.
“I’m a comedian, that’s just the energy I bring,” Turner said with a loud laugh. “There’s just not too many bad days [for me].”