At the conclusion of our interview, Yvonne Turner thanks me for keeping her story alive.
It’s a courteous remark, of course, but the wording is perhaps more applicable to her own work. The current Seattle Storm guard is well-versed in the subject.
Seven years separate the former Husker’s last year playing college basketball and first in the WNBA. After a strong four-year career at Nebraska under then-coach Connie Yori — featuring a first-team all-conference selection and three Big 12 All-Defensive team honors — Turner went undrafted by America’s top league.
As she said, she could’ve settled in the years after that. With 12 teams, It’s not uncommon for younger players to not find their way onto a roster immediately. But despite a couple preseason chances, Turner waited for a while, spending that time playing for six teams in six countries.
“At the end of the day, it was, I got better every single year,” Turner said of her time overseas. “I didn’t sell myself short and didn’t say, ‘Oh, I didn’t get drafted, so I’m just gonna go and BS overseas,’ and blah, blah, blah, but I took it and used it to my advantage. I got better. I worked on my game and then it got me here.”
The season to perhaps get her over the hump came in 2016-17. That was her first year with Sopron Basket in Hungary. Turner led the EuroLeague in scoring that season with her 18.8 points per game ranking ahead of WNBA great Diana Taurasi. That apparently helped catch the eyes of the Phoenix Mercury, where Turner’s rookie season was spent teaming up with Taurasi and Brittney Griner.
She spent three years with the Mercury, playing in 95 regular season games in that stretch. Her most impressive moment may have been in the team’s 2017 playoff run, when she started all five games and averaged 9.8 points on over 50% shooting from the field and from beyond the arc. In the 2019 regular season, Turner averaged 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
Then, another challenge hit in 2020. Turner suffered her first major injury, tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus. As a result, she didn’t have a chance to return to a WNBA roster.
Turner was 10 years into her professional career at this point, having been met with a significant setback. She describes it now as a “reset,” and something that helped her grow in a number of ways. Her faith is important to her, and she said she knew when she got injured that it was happening for a reason. She worked on her strength, spent time with her family and attended church, things she hadn’t done to the same degree previously.
“It really helped me spiritually and physically when I got injured in 2020, and to never give up on myself and to know that my creator knows best for me,” Turner said. “And with that it just allowed me to excel to where I am today, continuing to play the game at the age of 35 the way I do.”
In returning, Turner continued to play overseas, then got back to the WNBA in 2022. She played nine games, with three different teams signing her to hardship contracts over the course of the season.
When the Seattle Storm showed interest ahead of this season, she figured it’d be “just another training camp” opportunity. Instead, she’s started the first three games of the season and has served as a leader for the multiple young players on the roster.
“They threw me in the fire right away,” she said. “And I’ve always been a leader, but I’ve never been a leader vocally. I’ve always been a leader by example.”
She’s appreciated the opportunity to step into that leadership role, in large part due to the trust she feels from the coaching staff and organization as a whole.
“They’re not just like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna put you in, go stand in the corner,’ and that’s it,” Turner said. “They just value you as a person, as a player. And they make sure that you’re a part of the team and it was really great for me. At first I thought I was living in a dream while living out my dream, but they’ve been nothing but amazing.”
Turner still remains connected with Nebraska. Her parents and siblings still live in the state, so she goes back when she can. She said she watches the Huskers, although scheduling has prevented her from going to any games in recent years. Turner played with current Creighton assistant Chevelle Saunsoci in high school and against her in college — Turner said she hated guarding her — and now Saunsoci serves as the WNBA player’s personal coach.
“She watches my film, she tells me things that I need to work on and I also work out with her,” Turner said.
The Storm have struggled to start the season, losing their first three games, and Turner hopes to help turn that around. Her goals are to anchor the team defensively, along with just making a mark in Seattle through connecting with coaches and teammates. On top of that, she said the WNBA is all about inspiring the next generations. Even as she continues her path in the league, leading the young players around her is an important part as well.
“Having that experience from last year to this year and just jumping into the fire, they trust me,” Turner said. “And that’s meant so much to me because I don’t want to let my team down. And like I said, when the team wins, I win. So if that’s me being a leader vocally, being a leader by example, then that’s what I’m called to do, and I’m gonna take advantage of that.”