Trinity Turner's underdog mentality has made her Dr. Phillips High's best girls basketball player ever

With a handful of games and a playoff run to go, Dr. Phillips’ Trinity Turner has the chance to end her high school career in the record books.

Marquis Jackson | Editzbyquis
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The 2020 sports documentary series “The Last Dance” detailed Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, giving viewers a never-before-seen look into the icon’s NBA career.

Among the countless jaw-dropping stories from the docuseries, one prevailing thought encapsulated Jordan as a player, person, businessman and even as a brand: He took things personally. 

When anyone slighted him, doubted him or even came remotely close to suggesting that he wasn’t the best player on the floor, he took offense. He even went as far as making up fake reasons to be offended. Case in point: the LaBradford Smith story. 

Simply put, Jordan was a master of taking anything and everything that was said about him or someone in comparison to him and using it as motivation. 

Ultimately, that underdog mindset was one of the reasons he became a legendary athlete. 

Dr. Phillips girls basketball’s Trinity Turner, a Georgia signee, has taken that page from Jordan’s playbook since before the documentary series even premiered and used it to help build herself a historic high school basketball career.  

“She’s the type of player (who) you don’t want to stare down,” said Anthony Jones, Dr. Phillips’ five-time state championship-winning girls basketball coach. “You don’t wake up the sleeping giant. You don’t want to poke the bear. You need to make sure that you don’t give her anything to use as motivation, because she’s that type of player.”

In her four years — all as a starter — for the Lady Panthers, Turner has led DP to back-to-back FHSAA Class 7A state championships — leading the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals each time. 

Even with a few regular-season games and a probable deep playoff run still left to play, Turner’s career totals over a 102-game span are 1,773 points, 903 rebounds, 625 assists and 318 steals. There’s a good chance she could end her high school career with more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 750 assists and 400 steals. 

She also was named the MaxPreps Florida Player of the Year in 2022-23. Her overall record with Dr. Phillips is a staggering 87-20. 

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Born for the big stage

A perfect example of Turner’s Jordan-like ability to find bulletin-board material and use it to drive her to success on the basketball court is one her father, J.T. Turner, tells. And it came years ago, even before she was in high school.

“I’ve coached my kids up until the ninth grade, and one of the coaching philosophies I’ve always pushed is the mindset that we’re always the underdogs, so we can’t let anyone come out here and outwork us,” J.T. Turner said. “Trinity always understood that. For example, one of her best friends growing up was Jada Eads. She’s a superstar at Lake Highland. So when it was time for her to go to high school, everyone thought Trinity was going to go play with Jada. … But she told me, ‘No dad, get me somewhere that has them on the schedule,’ because at that time, a lot of people were saying that Jada was a better player than Trinity.”

In two games against the Highlanders, one where Eads — a Seton Hall University signee — played and one she didn’t, Trinity Turner averaged a whopping 29 points, 11.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and three steals a game.

This type of mindset doesn’t surprise Jones; he knows she relishes the big stage.

“Whenever we have big games, and we’re getting ready to face a team with a ranked player, or a player that happens to be ranked higher than Trinity, whether it be in the country or the state, that alone motivates her,” Jones said. “If there is somebody on the other team who is supposed to be superb, I don’t have to say much. She motivates herself. … That’s what I respect the most about her, she always going to give 100%, because it doesn’t take much to motivate her.”

The senior guard agrees. 

“I agree, but at the same time, I think with any opponent I show up to play with my best game,” Trinity Turner said. 

“But yes, I’m a little more focused on the big stage, because even though I don’t really care about the rankings and all that stuff, I still want to show up and show everyone that I’m the one and that y’all can count me out all you want because I’m the underdog. But I’m always going to make sure to show y’all something in those moments.”

Lifelong underdog

But how did Trinity Turner develop that underdog mindset? 

Yes, her father pushed it on her as a coach, but her older sister, Jimaya Turner, helped solidify it. For Trinity, beating her older sister, currently a senior basketball player at Stetson who won a state title at Jones High in 2017, was the ultimate goal.

“To be honest, as much as I trained and taught my children the game, without that sibling rivalry, Trinity wouldn’t have become as good as she is,” J.T. Turner said. “Her sister used to beat her down on the court. Then, she’d come in the house crying, and the first thing I’d say to her was, ‘Get back outside and play her again.’ She’d complain about her sister backing her down and that she could beat her if she didn’t do that. But I’d just keep saying, ‘I don’t care what she does to you, you have to keep competing, you have to find a way to beat her.’ She never did as a kid, but she kept trying. … That competitiveness got inside her.”

Trinity Turner said: “I always wanted to beat my sister in everything. No matter what it was, I always wanted to be better than her. So when we played one-on-one, we would always go at it. Because of her, as I was growing up, I always played up with older kids, and that helped me a lot. Now, when I play against bigger or stronger players it’s not as hard as it seems because I got used to it.”

Beyond the impact that trying to beat her older sister had on Trinity Turner, the biggest lesson that Jimaya Turner taught her was to always give it your all. 

“My sister, growing up, really taught me how to always go 100% all of the time,” Trinity Turner said. “ She always tried to push me hard and told me what I had to do to get better. I’m really just following in her footsteps but just trying to be better.”

These experiences shaped Trinity Turner into the player she is today: a pass-first point guard who can put the team on her back and get a bucket whenever she wants. She is an elite competitor who lives for the big moments and matchups.

“Trinity is probably one of the best players — skillset-wise — that I’ve ever coached,” Jones said. “She’s very athletic, very strong and has a very high basketball I.Q. She just plays like a dog — a big-timer.  She’s such a great competitor; it feels like her game belongs back in the mid-90s. Her game reminds me of how it used to be playing in the park … where every possession was such a big shot, and it felt like everybody on the court was a dog.”

Trinity's last dance

With that kind of player leading the way, along with a superb group of juniors, it’s no wonder the Lady Panthers have won back-to-back state championships. 

But to complete what the Panthers’ coach calls the hardest thing in sports — winning the third championship of a three-peat — and sending Trinity Turner off to Athens, Georgia, in style, they need to stay locked in. 

Jones should know: His DP teams did it in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13.

“You have to understand that a three-peat is the hardest thing to do,” Jones said. “There’s so much going against you. … Like I tell the players, we have to keep the evil spirit out of our program, because we’re going to have haters, and we’re going to have to work twice as hard to get back there. I can remember winning that third title in 2013, and it wasn’t as much of a celebration as it was more of a sigh of relief.

“Every opponent we face knows exactly who we are coming into the gym, and they’ve had that game circled,” he said. “They know they have to play at their best to be able to compete with the defending champions, so most of the time we get everybody’s A+ game, and that’s challenging. But I think my girls have understood that and how to deal with the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs that come with having this target on our back … so we’re up for the challenge. That’s what we’ve prepared for, and no matter what, we are going to fight.”

Trinity Turner agrees.

“We just need to keep focusing in practice and going 100% out there every day,” she said. “(All the players) on the team (know) their style of play, they know their role, so we just need to stay locked in. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re unstoppable.”

Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.

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Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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