By TED LEWIS
Written for the LSWA
“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 just four years into having a women’s basketball program and 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, 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 and a Kodak All-America 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 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 June 24-26 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 grandmother (and minus her trademark gold tooth and Afro) who resides with her husband, Troy Johnson, in Carrollton, Texas.
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, located in Natchitoches. That’s just 32 miles from Saline in Bienville Parish and now-closed Shady Grove High School where Turner was both 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 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 GPA, she used the scholarship to earn a master’s degree in business from Tech, eventually becoming a CPA. 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.
“Angela used basketball as a means to get a college education,” Hogg said. “You don’t hear much about anyone doing that these days, but back then there weren’t many pro opportunities for women.
“She got tremendous support from her parents. A.T. always had bigger plans than basketball.”
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.
Basketball wasn’t her only sport, either. In elementary school, football was her preference.
But that door being closed to girls, she gravitated to basketball.
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.
National recruiting wasn’t developed back then, especially of players from tiny schools like Shady Grove.
That gave Hogg, Barmore and school president Dr. F. Jay Taylor, a Bienville Parish native himself and such an avid supporter of the women’s basketball program he often accompanied the coaches on scouting trips, a big leg up at landing Turner. Plus, her cousin, Laverne Henderson, was an original Lady Techster.
“We went to see Angela one night against Simsboro, and they were double-teaming her the whole game,” Barmore recalled. “Finally they started triple-teaming her when she reached half-court.
“That’s how much respect the other schools had for her. She could have started for us while she was still in high school.”
In the summer before she arrived at Tech, Turner on the U.S. Junior National team, averaging 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 coach from Maryland really wanted me to come there,” Turner Johnson said. “But I didn’t want to go anywhere but Louisiana Tech.”
Hogg could see the possibilities for the Lady Techsters.
“A.T. and Pam were the cornerstones of our program,” he said. “With those two, we knew we could accomplish just about anything.”
That they did.
The Lady Techsters went from a regional to national power in 1978-79, going 34-4 and reaching the 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.
Along with being successes on the court, the Lady Techsters were a phenomenon off. Crowds packed Memorial Gym and the players were celebrities in Ruston and beyond.
“People just loved us,” Turner Johnson said. “Even now, if I’m in Ruston people come up to me and tell me how they enjoyed watching the Lady Techsters.
“Everyone got caught up in the excitement of winning. I think it was just that we were a small college in a small town and we were competing with the best in the country.”
Turner averaged 16.0 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.”
After her sophomore season, Turner, along with Kelly, was invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic team.
But because Tech had played 45 games and the U.S. was boycotting the Moscow Games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the two passed.
It’s a decision Turner Johnson regrets to this day.
“In hindsight, I wish I’d at least tried out,” she said. “Pam and I would probably have made the team, and it would have been a great experience even if we didn’t go.
“But I just felt burned out.”
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 that Tech should be ranked Nos. 1-2 because it had the best two teams in America.
Tech proved it on the court, too.
They would go 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.
In the team’s 66-50 victory against Southern Cal in the semifinals, Turner had 14 points.
She played 79 of a possible 80 minutes in the two games and was named the MVP of the Final Four.
The following season, the 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 UConn surpassed it in 2003.
Tech would win 15 more games after that loss, capped by a 72-62 victory against Cheney State for the first NCAA women’s basketball championship.
“Back-to-back was something because we made history,” Turner-Johnson said. “But that first one is the most special to me because we’d come so close the two years before.”
Lawrence was the MVP of the 1982 Final Four and Kelly, the team’s leading scorer with 20.3 points-per-game was the first winner of the Wade Trophy winner, which goes to the nation’s best player.
And Turner, whose scoring average dropped to 10.3 because the Techsters were so deep and won by so much (33 points per-game playing a national schedule as an independent) was still named a Kodak All-America.
“No doubt Angela could have scored 25-30 points a game in another program,” Barmore said. “But she was totally unselfish.
“Everybody on the team got accolades. But they were all about the team winning.”
Turner Johnson agreed.
“We were just a group of young ladies who were of like minds in just wanting to win,” she said. “Every time we got on the court, we played our hearts out.
“Everybody knew her role. That’s why we all got along so well.”
The 1982 title game was Turner’s final time in a basketball uniform.
She did have an opportunity to play professionally in Italy but turned that down because she wanted to pursue her master’s degree.
“That was really important to me,” Turner Johnson said. “I didn’t feel like I necessarily had anything to prove even though I had come from a little Class C school.
“But I wanted to set an example for those that came after me.”
And so Turner Johnson, who met her husband while working in Los Angeles, put her basketball career behind her, although she has several mementoes in the loft of her home she shows to visitors.
One thing was missing though.
After the NCAA championship, the players received watches, but no rings.
That oversight was finally corrected in 2017 when the players were honored before a game in Ruston.
“I don’t know why they didn’t give us rings back then,” said Turner Johnson, one of several players in attendance that day. “But I didn’t take mine off for at least six months.”
For A.T., as it was for finally making the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, better late than never.