TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne knew the negative impact her sabbatical would have on the program, the big hit on recruiting, the lack of continuity and leadership and, most likely, losses on the court.
Even so, Turner Thorne had to step away. After more than 20 years of coaching basketball, the grind of the job had taken a toll on her life and her psyche, changing her as a coach and a person.
“I think 15 years at ASU, we had a lot of success, but I felt stuck a little,” Turner Thorne said. “It’s just really hard in a job like this to have reflection time, clarity, barely take a week of vacation a year. There’s really no windows to step back with this job and I was feeling like I really needed to, that I wasn’t leading this program where it needed to go and I wasn’t where I needed to be as a leader for the program.”
The time away worked out as Turner Thorne expected: She came back rejuvenated and the program did dip, to one of its worst finishes in her tenure.
Then something somewhat unexpected happened: The program bounced back quicker than anyone anticipated.
Buoyed by a deep roster and the principles Turner Thorne honed during her nearly nine months away, the Sun Devils have been one of the surprises of women’s college basketball this season.
Arizona State is 20-4 and 9-3 in the Pac-12, with victories over Top 25 teams Syracuse and Miami, and is up to No. 11 in The Associated Press poll.
“No, I didn’t necessarily think we would have this level of consistency,” Turner Thorne said. “But early on through this offseason, I got a great feeling for this team’s commitment. It was night and day from last season in terms of how hard they were working.”
Turner Thorne set the foundation for the quick turnaround during her sabbatical.
While the Sun Devils were winning 20 games under interim coach Joseph Anders in 2011-12, Turner Thorne spent time with her family and finally relaxing after years of chasing an all-consuming job.
She also was able to step back and take a big-picture look at her program and the way she coached it.
Turner Thorne filled up five notebooks with ideas, touching on everything from developing better leadership – both by her and her players – redefining the culture within the program and shooting techniques after spending time with a shooting coach.
Several Spokane area players have played for Turner Thorne, including freshman Kelsey Moos from Reardan. Moos is averaging 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.