Arizona State women's basketball: Coach returns from sabbatical to rebuilding team

2013-11-03T00:00:00Z Arizona State women's basketball: Coach returns from sabbatical to rebuilding teamBy Zack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Charli Turner Thorne is not an iPhone. She doesn’t need to be recharged.

ASU’s longtime head coach took a nine-month sabbatical and missed the 2011-12 season.

“I want to be clear,” she said. “I didn’t spend nine months away from my basketball program to recharge my battery. It was truly a sabbatical.”

“I’ve been a head coach since I was 27, building programs, working every day of my life. I needed clarity on what I needed to do at ASU to sustain a top-10 level. I just asked, ‘Can I just step back and really look at this?’”

For the first time in a long time, she spent more time with her husband and three sons than with her team. She still worked “almost every day,” but took days off, too.

With Joseph Anders leading in the interim, the Sun Devils went 20-12 and lost in the first round of the WNIT. It was the 13th straight year of postseason play for ASU.

Then, Turner Thorne came back.

If 2011-12 was the figurative nap, then 2012-13 was the marimba alarm clock sounding — it was a wake-up call.

Before she even coached a game, she lost three starters to graduation and her best returner, guard Deja Mann, missed the year with a knee injury.

“It was hard because we had a lot of newness,” said senior center Joy Burke. “It was just a young team.”

The Sun Devils sputtered, went 13-18 — their worst mark in 15 years — and finished ninth in the Pac-12.

To Turner Thorne, it was a “transition year.” Which, for the winningest women’s coach in ASU history, was strange.

“What I did was very unprecedented,” she said. “I don’t think anybody would know, and I didn’t know, how much it would impact our program, but certainly it did. To come back, you gotta build trust back, you gotta build relationships back, and that takes time.”

Turner Throrne’s approach now is no different than it was when she inherited a then-moribund program in 1996, which had gone 20-60 (8-46 in the Pac-10) in the three seasons before her arrival.

“I love challenges,” she said. “I came here because this program was a massive challenge to get it going. We got it going. We didn’t last year and everybody knows why; we just didn’t have everything that we needed to win.”

The way Turner Thorne sees it, this year, they do.

Burke, the team’s leading rebounder (6.1 per game), returns, as does Promise Amukamara, who was the second-leading scorer at 8.0 points per game, adding 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per contest.

The Sun Devils lost Janae Fulcher, their leading scorer last year, but added Katie Hempen, a sharpshooting transfer from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011-12.

Plus, they get Mann back, ASU’s third-leading scorer in 2011-12. The Sun Devils will open their season on Nov. 9 against Hawaii at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

“Everyone who played last year has gotten better already,” Mann said, “So me and Katie are just adding to that.”

Added Turner Thorne: “We’re surrounding them (the returners) with more talent. If it was just them coming back, I don’t know, it would be hard.”

Neither Burke or Mann, both fifth-year seniors, were even supposed to be here this year. Their last year was supposed to be Thorne’s first back, but Burke missed her sabbatical year with concussion problems.

Thanks to medical redshirts, Mann and Burke are back for one last hurrah.

“It still bothers me, having to think about that we didn’t make the tournament last year,” Burke said. “We want to leave a legacy here. We want to make sure we end on a good note.”

It won’t be Turner Thorne’s last hurrah, though.

“I believe in maroon and gold,” she said, “It’s who I am, and I love this place.”

Contact reporter Zack Rosenblatt at zrosenblatt@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @ZackBlatt

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