Jakia Brown-Turner carries a legacy from nearby Bishop McNamara to Maryland

Photo courtesy of Chris Lyons/Maryland Athletics

Roughly forty minutes from the Xfinity Center sits a light-hardwood basketball court in Bishop McNamara High School, wrapped with maroon baselines. A brazen gold mustang stands frozen mid-stride at center court, while championship banners stretch behind it across the white cinderblock walls.

Jakia Brown-Turner once stood at the top of the Mustang and split through a screen as she set her feet and connected on a mid range jump shot at the elbow. It was two of 22 points the then-high school senior scored that day against Bishop Ireton. 

Those performances were the standard for Brown-Turner while attending Bishop McNamara. She brought consistency every day, her coach said, and the team knew those performances came every night.

Brown-Turner became the school’s all-time leading scorer by the time she graduated and positioned Bishop McNamara to a national rank for multiple weeks in her crescendo campaign. She added Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year honors and a McDonald’s All-American nod to her repertoire that year, the school’s first ever honoree.

“She was the reason why Bishop McNamara was successful,” said Frank Oliver Jr., Brown-Turner’s high school coach and current IMG Academy coach. “Her coming in and setting the tone had other players wanting to play with her. Great players wanted to play with her.”

Jakia Brown-Turner attempting a jump shot for Bishop McNamara (Photo courtesy of Frank Oliver Jr.)

Oliver met Brown-Turner when she was in sixth grade at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School.  Her coach recalls she had an unusually calming demeanor at a young age, her poise wise beyond her years.

“Quietly,” Oliver described, Brown-Turner curated a 30-point performance in her first high school scrimmage against Largo. But the scrimmage was nothing out of the ordinary, as the freshman led Bishop McNamara in scoring her first year and immediately stepped into a leadership role on a team with eight seniors.

“Coach Oliver and my teammates, especially that team, they definitely put a lot of confidence in me so I pretty much knew that if I’m open, shoot it,” Brown-Turner said. 

Oliver wanted Brown-Turner to play a mentor role entering her sophomore season following her success. He pushed for his talented young player to look after then-freshman Madison Scott. 

Now a four-year starter at Ole Miss, Scott became Brown-Turner’s protegee as she worked to instill confidence in the younger player. The two rode to practices together and would get food together afterwards. Their favorite option was Chick-fil-A.

Scott earned a McDonald’s All-American nod herself her senior year and was named the Washington Post’s Player of the Year.

“Jakia was like, ‘Hey, come with me,’ and she set a really good example for her,” Oliver said. “And I think that helped Madison as well.”

Brown-Turner included Scott as she worked out with the boys team at Bishop McNamara. Her trainer, Jay Gavin, worked out players on the team, and Brown-Turner asked if she could join the sessions as well to expand her game.

“It was definitely quicker but I learned a lot of different moves that girls might not have been doing at the time,” Brown-Turner said.

She also went back to her middle school after basketball practice to continue working out with her father. 

Brown-Turner got close with the school’s athletic director and custodians while playing for Benjamin Stoddert in sixth through eighth grade. Once in high school, she approached the athletic director about using the gym to practice, and her father, Jarrett Turner, worked with the custodians to find time to practice late.

“[We practiced] basic fundamentals,” Turner said. “… Consistently making layups, mid-range, free throws, ball handling, game-type situations.” 

Brown-Turner’s senior season was the pinnacle of her four years at Bishop McNamara as the Mustangs compiled an 31-4 record and were ranked No. 16 in the final USA Today Super 25 national rankings. 

In a nationally-ranked top five matchup between St. John’s and Bishop McNamara that year, Oliver recalls a sold out venue. Standing room tickets needed to be sold. There was a line already snaking around the building to get in for the seven o’clock tip-off when school released four hours prior. Spectators were paying to view the game from the school cafeteria’s television screens when the tickets to the gym sold out.

“I had never seen that before, it was crazy,” Oliver said. “I’m pretty sure it was a fire code violation in there, they had to shut it down.”

Brenda Frese took notice of the budding star in the Terps’ backyard, and pursued the talented scorer out of high school — Maryland joined West Virginia and N.C. State as Brown-Turner’s top-three collegiate choices. But when it came time to make a decision, Brown-Turner decided to join the Wolfpack for a better opportunity to play. 

Opportunities would’ve been limited for Brown-Turner as the Terps signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation that fall. The group included the No. 2 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Diamond Miller, the No. 5 overall recruit Ashley Owusu and current Maryland captain Faith Masonius.

“I stepped in a little bit because I think Jakia had a better opportunity of playing and being a bigger impact to North Carolina State than she would’ve with Maryland,” Jarrett Turner said.

But Brown-Turner eventually made her way back home. After four years at N.C. State — featuring consensus first-team All-ACC honors in 2021 and surpassing the 1,000-point mark for her — the Oxon Hill native decided to return to her home state and play for Maryland. 

One visit to College Park was all it took for Brown-Turner. She made her decision official in April. Maryland’s coaching staff wooed the N.C. State product with a salmon dinner at Grillmarx and then a Maggiano’s Little Italy encore feast at Frese’s house.

The coaching staff and the Terps’ roster played games with Brown-Turner. She said “it felt like a family.”

“I just knew it was the right place,” Brown-Turner added.

Similar to her high school years, the fifth-year player was pegged as a leader from the jump. Brown-Turner was named one of four team captains for Maryland leading into the season. Frese saw Brown-Turner lead by example in the weight room during the summer with her consistent habits every day. Brown-Turner said she tries to help her teammates in practice everyday by encouraging constant communication at practice.

“It was really an easy decision for us when we started building that in the fall, knowing where she had put her voice just coming in from day one,” Frese said. “You expect that. She’s a fifth year graduate senior [that] has been in big moments.”

Following a blowout loss against No. 1 South Carolina her last time out, the Terps’ captain remained on the court following Maryland’s Wednesday practice, while most of her teammates had left to pack for the upcoming trip to face No. 8 UConn. 

Gliding from one spot to another across the three-point arc, she grew familiar with the Nike-branded basketball she would be playing with one day later in Storrs.

The Maryland state flag stamps itself behind her across the baselines in the facade of the steep, red seating of the student section. The 2006 national championship banner flies above Brown-Turner’s head, soaring in front of the other white basketball banners in the rafters.

Brown-Turner’s goal is to hang one more.

Posted by Michael Howes