Turner brought spotlight to La. Tech
Ted Lewis, Special to the American Press
EDITOR’S NOTE: Fifth in a series of stories about the eight inductees to be enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday in Natchitoches.
“Miss Hogg, we’re going to win the national championship.”
That was a pretty audacious promise, especially considering it was coming from a player at a rural Class C school and made to a coach recruiting her to a college four years into having a women’s basketball program, one which had yet to sign anyone from more than 100 miles away from Ruston – including this one.
But that player was Angela Turner. And, sure enough, while she was at Louisiana Tech, the Lady Techsters claimed not one but two national titles plus two other Women’s Final Four appearances to boot while establishing a tradition that kept the school among the sport’s elite into the 21st century.
“I don’t know what made me say that other than I believed it was true,” said Turner, the Final Four MVP in 1981 when Tech took the AIAW championship (before women’s sports were in the NCAA) and an All-American in 1982 when the Techsters became the first NCAA women’s champion. “When I dream, I dream big. I didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be us.”
And now, more than four decades after she first made that memorable pledge to Tech coach Sonja Hogg, Turner’s can-do attitude — not to mention her versatile abilities topped by an ahead-of-its-time jump shot — have landed her in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
She’ll be honored in the pandemic-delayed 2020 induction celebration Saturday in Natchitoches.
Turner’s going in long after her playing days. But she’s fine with that.
“Better late than never,” said Turner, now Angela Turner Johnson, a soon-to-be-61-year old grandmother (and minus her trademark gold tooth and Afro) who resides with her husband, Troy Johnson, in Carrollton, Tex.
Turner Johnson joins Hogg, then-associate head coach Leon Barmore and teammates Pam Kelly, Kim Mulkey and Janice Lawrence-Braxton in the state’s shrine to its top athletes
At now-closed Shady Grove High School in Bienville Parish, Turner was not only a star player, averaging 30.9 points and 15.1 rebounds as a senior, but also the valedictorian of the 17-member Class of 1978 along with being Miss Shady Grove and student council president.
Turner Johnson’s fellow Hall of Famers from her Lady Techster days are unanimous in saying her inclusion is long overdue.
Kelly (1992): “A.T. should have gone in with the rest of us. She worked her butt off as a player and a student, and that included helping me out with math when I couldn’t get it.”
Lawrence-Braxton (2005): “You can always tell good people, and from the time I met her, A.T. was good people. She was a leader on and off the court. Without A.T. you really don’t have the history of Lady Techster basketball.”
Barmore (2000): “Angela Turner could score, defend, steal and rebound. That God-given ability was just there. There was just an electricity about her game and you don’t find people that have the class she has.”
Mulkey (1990): “A.T. had a mid-range jump shot back in the day when mostly it was just men who were shooting them. She’d do it with a smile on her face, too. And on top of that, she was and is just a kind and classy person.”
Hogg (2013): “Angela was a joy to coach because she was the kind of player who would run through a brick wall for you. And she was a great student-athlete in every sense of the word.”
In 1982, Turner Johnson was part of the first group of 10 female recipients of an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
An honor student with a 3.35 grade point average, she used the scholarship to earn a master’s degree in business from Tech, eventually becoming a certified public accountant.
She worked for companies like Coca-Cola and Motown and lived in Los Angeles and then London for several years before she and her husband settled in Texas in 2006 where she continues working as a CPA.
But it was basketball where Turner-Johnson made a lasting impression.
A 5-foot-8 shooting guard, Tuner-Johnson first developed her skills playing against boys in backyards and school playgrounds.
Her trademark jump shot came, she once said, because she was tired of the bigger boys blocking her layup attempts.
A three-time all-stater and the Outstanding Player in Class C as a junior and senior, she led Shady Grove to a 46-1 record and the state championship in 1978.
In the summer before she arrived at Tech, Turner played on the U.S. Junior National team, averaged a team-high 12.3 points as the Americans won a silver medal in an international tournament against teams from North and South America.
The Lady Techsters went from a regional to national power in 1978-79, going 34-4 and reaching the old AIAW championship game where they lost to Old Dominion.
The following year, Tech was 40-5 but again was foiled by Old Dominion, losing to the Monarchs in the AIAW semifinal.
Turner averaged 16 and 18.2 points those first two seasons, primarily scoring off that mid-range jump shot that usually came at the end of a series of picks in a play called “Two Down.”
To this day, many teams employ the scheme developed back in the day. At Texas A&M, former Techster assistant coach Gary Blair calls the play “Tech.”
Turner’s junior season brought an even greater influx of talent — Mulkey, Lawrence, Debra Rodman and Jennifer White among others.
So deep were the Lady Techsters that coach Pat Summit of archrival Tennessee said Tech should be ranked Nos. 1-2 because it had the best two teams in America.
Tech proved it on the court, too.
It went 34-0 in 1980-81, finishing with a 79-59 thumping of Tennessee for the AIAW title.
Turner shared scoring honors with Lawrence and Kelly in the championship game with 16 points, six coming during a 10-0 run late in the first half which carried the Techsters to a 40-28 halftime lead.
She played 79 of a possible 80 minutes in the two games and was named the MVP of the Final Four.
The following season, under the auspices of the NCAA, the Techsters were 35-1, losing only to old nemesis Old Dominion in a January road game that snapped their winning streak at 54. It was a record that would stand until Connecticut surpassed it in 2003.
Tech won 15 more games after that loss, capped by a 72-62 victory against Cheney State for the first NCAA women’s basketball championship.
Angela Turner Johnson, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame