Arizona head coach Adia Barnes admits that she hasn’t always taken a long time to think about her assistant coaching hires. After moving on from Ashley Davis and Erin Grant, her seventh and eighth assistant coaches in her first seven years at the helm, she wanted to get it right. It almost cost her, but she was able to land her choice when she selected Anthony Turner.
“I didn’t want to rush,” Barnes said. “I wanted to take my time, really think about what I needed. I let the girls meet him. There was a lot of change on the staff. I mean, a lot of change in just our whole office and on the team, so I wanted to kind of get a grip on that and have the right fit of a coach after...because, for me, if I were to wait two more months, I just wanted to find the right person. And he was getting job offers and going around, so I didn’t even think I’d be able to get him because he had just accepted an offer at San Jose State. I kind of knew he was doing that. I didn’t know he was already there for a week. So, I kind of was just working on my timeline.”
For Turner, it was the opportunity to work with Barnes and help continue what she’s building that attracted him to Arizona over the other opportunities he had.
“It was a really interesting time,” Turner said. “I actually had four or five different opportunities come our way. And, you know, you sit down and talk to the family, kind of evaluate where we are in terms of what we want to do career wise and the things that are really important. And so, being able to work with Coach Adia, somebody who is really, really good, well-respected, like-minded, that was really important. Being in a program that has done some amazing things from the national perspective, have an opportunity to compete at the highest levels.”
What stood out about Turner were both his experience and his personality. After the regular staff turnover in her first seven years, Barnes wanted someone she felt would be around for a while.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Barnes said. “My agent knows him. I have a lot of friends who worked with him, and I know he’s a really solid person and good coach. A great human being. I talked to his former bosses. No one can say enough good things about him. So, one, he is someone with experience...A great faith-based person, great morals and values that align with me. And I wanted someone who isn’t looking for the next job, and looking to really help do something special here and he was the right person.”
Barnes also felt that Turner would be more likely to stick around because he’s bringing a family with him. He’s married and the father of teenaged twin girls who were born when he was an assistant at Oregon State under former coach LaVonda Wagner.
“I had the Washington State scout on Saturday,” Turner said. “So, after our UW game—we won that game— I’m working on it. You know, my wife had premature contractions and all that sort of thing before. So, she was just, ‘I need to go to the doctor.’ And I thought it was just another false alarm, but let’s go. We get there. And I’m literally like at the doctor. She’s examining her and I’m working on my scouting report for Washington State. And they’re going through and they’re asking questions, and I kind of chime in and go back to what I’m doing, and they come to the decision that the girls are coming and we’re going to do a C-section and the doctor literally said, ‘Okay, you’re gonna be parents in about two hours,’ and I was like, ‘Wait a minute. What did you just say?’”
The biggest surprise might be that Barnes hired a male coach. Other than her husband Salvo Coppa, all of her assistants have been female.
“It’s not like I don’t hire guys,” Barnes said. “I like a lot of women in the game. I know a lot of women. For me, it’s women’s basketball, but I hire the best person but typically females. I’ve never had, my eighth year, never had a male in that role besides Salvo. Salvo’s probably happy. One more guy around.”
Beyond his personal values, Barnes also liked bringing in someone who had experience working with posts. The post was an area of weakness for the Wildcats last season, and she said she hasn’t had someone with that kind of experience on her staff in a while.
Turner’s experience in the women’s game came as a result of an unfortunate occurrence when he was still in college at Colorado, playing as a walk-on member of the Buffaloes’ men’s team. It started with the legendary coach and administrator Ceal Barry.
“I played a little bit, ended up getting injured and still have scars,” Turner said, pointing at the scar where his ACL was repaired. “So, that came at a time where I was a walk-on player just barely being able to be on the court with some of the best players in the world. With this injury, am I still going to be able to do that? And so, kind of not really knowing the answer to that but definitely knowing that I wanted to be involved in basketball. I love the sport. I love the competition. I love the family aspect of it. Again, single-parent home, having a team of people around you, it’s just something that I always loved growing up. So, I actually went to my coach, and I said, ‘Look, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do it, but I really still want to be involved. And how can I help out in any way?’ Well, another guy that just finished his eligibility, he’s like, I have him in this kind of student assistant role, so I don’t really have that, but I will take you over to Coach Barry, the women’s coach.”
Barry said he could work a camp. The problem was that Turner had just had surgery on his knee. He wasn’t going to let that stop him from getting the opportunity.
“So, I literally had my ACL surgery on a Wednesday,” Turner said. “Camp started on Sunday. So Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was flat on my back, knocked out. But Sunday morning. I was like, I gotta go. So, back in the day like I had a full cast on, and I had a stick shift car, so I get in the car and I’m driving, trying to get to camp on Sunday. And so, we work the whole week of camp. By the end of camp, I was refereeing basketball games. And at the end of camp, Coach comes around and kind of says ‘Anybody that can come out and do what you did this week. After that, we need you.’ So, she gave me an opportunity to be involved with the team.”
While learning from Barry, Turner worked camps across the country. He even made his way to Tucson to work for former head coach Joan Bonvicini’s camp. He said that he got those opportunities because Barry was willing to pick up the phone and help him. The next step was a paying job on a staff.
“One of the (Colorado) assistant coaches had gotten the head coaching job at San Diego State, and so, she kind of gave me my first opportunity from there and that was my first real job,” Turner said. “And 24 years later, the rest is history.”
What has kept him in the women’s game for those 24 years goes back to Turner’s childhood.
“My parents were divorced,” Turner said. “I grew up with my mom, who’s just an amazing person. Amazing woman. She sacrificed so much to give me and my little brother opportunities, give us a leg up in life. And so being able to work with younger women, I’ve always said if I can just serve and give back and help a young girl become half of the woman that my mom is, then I paid it back.”
He returns to the idea of service to people when asked what is important in developing post players.
“If I can find out who you are, what you’re about, what your needs are, what your goals are, what you need to get to those goals and then go about serving you every day, in all those ways, then I don’t have to pull you across that finish line,” Turner said. “You’ll literally push us across. So, that’s the baseline. You got to establish that trust, and then once you have that, then the teaching part becomes easier, because then everything becomes easier.”
Once he has that trust, he said there are specific things he’s trying to get bigs to embrace when they’re on the floor.
“From a specific standpoint, I want to get them on the board, especially these days, that embracing contact, physicality. And especially with young women, sometimes there’s a stigma with being physical. They’re going to be like this,” Turner said, hunching his shoulders over and making himself smaller. “Well, put your shoulders back. Be proud of who you are. Stand up and embrace it. Know that I’m the biggest, baddest thing on the court and you can’t deal with it. So that’s a huge part of the mentality. And obviously, you either have it or you don’t, and sometimes you have it and you try to hide it. So, as a coach, it’s the ability to be able to see that and try to pull it out and bring that out. So, that’s the mental side of it. The physical side of it is just balance, hands, consistency, form, technique, energy and effort. You can get players to notice things. You can get them to put their shoulders back and embrace the contact and the strength and the physicality of things. And then you can get them to embrace the culture.”