There can never be enough people praying for you.
In the case of Kiya Turner, there are undoubtedly people who pray the Nease sophomore isn’t cookin’ whenever she faces them.
As for what happens if the 15-year-old guard is on her game? Heaven help you.
Turner captained an unheralded Nease squad to a 24-5 record and second straight appearance in a regional final. She led St. Johns County in scoring (20.1 points per game) and steals (5.4) and was second with 4.3 assists. Her two-way play and evolution from silent slasher to a willing leader are among the reasons that Turner is The Record’s 2017 Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“It was hard, at first, because last year, I didn’t really talk as much,” Turner said. “Sydney (Searcy) and Kyla (Dorisca) did it for me. It was hard at first, but I got used to it. My teammates told me, they wanted me to yell at them. I said ‘OK.’ I tried to take over as well as I could. I’m not as vocal, so I have to get used to it.”
Turner, and her coaches, will be the first to attest her perceived yelling was more constructive than destructive. After being the primary ball handler as a freshman, she split time between point guard and shooting guard with freshman Karissa Niles this season.
“She hates to lose and she knows what it takes to win, so she puts the time in,” said Nease coach Sherri Anthony.
Of the 206 field goals Turner made this year, none were more important than the off-balance hook shot with her off-hand in a regional semifinal game against Middleburg with less than 25 seconds to play. The shot gave Nease its first lead since very early in the game and stunned what had been a raucous Clay County crowd.
“I was trying to get a foul or something,” Turner recalled about her Valentine’s Day heartbreaker. “I said, ‘I’m just going to go up.’ When I realized she bumped me, I couldn’t really go off my right hand because it was already (low), so I switched to my left hand, threw it up and (chose to) trust the process.”
Nease wound up winning 40-37 on a night when Turner scored a season-low 10 points. She either scored, or assisted half of the Panthers’ 16 field goals that night.
“You can’t teach heart, you can’t teach instinct,” Anthony said. “Her instinct and her heart (are) always in the right place. You always say, ‘big games bring out the best in big players.’ It did and she came up with the winning basket. As far as I was concerned, that was the hardest basket I’ve ever seen her finish.”
As dramatic as the shot was, Turner said she made a similar one in the first half and she had been working on developing a left-handed hook shot with her father in the weeks prior to the season-changing shot.
The reason Nease was playing in Middleburg and not on its home court was due to a 41-37 loss to the Broncos in the District 4-7A title game. As disappointing as the loss was, the road trips to playoff games in Gainesville, in Clay County and in Fort Walton Beach allowed the already tight Panthers to bond in ways they previously had not.
This season was part of an evolution that began when Turner was 5 years old and still living in Nashville.
She would watch her father, Tony McFadden, play recreationally and the basketball bug bit her. After splitting her time between the hardwood and the soccer pitch, Kiya devoted herself to basketball in middle school. The commitment meant working out with dad in addition to her coaches.
“She is a hard-worker and a quick learner,” McFadden said. “She sees something and will want to emulate it until she masters it. … We have the same demeanor. We have the same attitude in the game. I’m not trying to live through her, but I see myself in her.”
McFadden had his own basketball career as a point guard at Belmont University in the early 1990s. These days, he is a parent who coaches and loves his oldest daughter hard. McFadden quipped that at Nease games, he is the intense one, while Kiya’s mother, Zonta Turner, is the one who provides the reassuring glances and enough prayer to replace the beads of sweat on her brow with anointing.
In some respects, Turner’s performances this season were akin to those of her favorite basketball player, Russell Westbrook — in terms of the scoring load she was expected to carry, her relentless effort on both ends of the court and necessity to create for teammates.
Like Westbrook, Turner was liable to get a triple double at any time. Where Turner differed from the Oklahoma City dynamo was in how she collected her stats: All three of her triple-doubles this season were through points, rebounds and steals.
She produced 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 steals in a Dec.8 win over St. Augustine. Eight days later, she produced 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 steals in a 56-11 whitewashing of Palatka. Turner followed the Palatka performance with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 52-33 win over Bartram Trail that helped the Panthers improve to 12-0 at the time.
When she is not working out, or playing basketball, Turner is an ardent follower of the sport — as evidenced by the white Kyrie 3’s on her feet, her casual reference to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid’s favorite phrase, her nuanced response on why Westbrook should be the Most Valuable Player or the countless times she has watched “Love &Basketball.”
Though Turner was born 13 months after the cult classic was released, she would love nothing more than to earn a college scholarship to a Division I program as Sanaa Lathan’s character did in the movie that she has watched dozens of times.
Turner already has one scholarship offer, but she has yet to commit. Wherever, Turner does play, Anthony believes she has the work ethic to be successful.
“We didn’t know how great of a season it would be, but it would be a good season,” Anthony said. “They followed her lead. She led in the weight room, she led in the stadium steps, she led in the gym.”