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This week, Tom takes a moment to celebrate a former Tucson high school star



It is my duty to inform The Haters out there that this column deals, at least in part, with females who play basketball. I thought I'd warn them in case reading about that subject matter would cause a sudden spike in their blood pressure. So, you guys, don't read it and I'll just assume that y'all don't like sports or maybe you don't think girls should play sports.

Almost all of the girls I have coached over the years fit neatly in the category of Great Kid. But there's this one whom I would be proud to call my second daughter. Catherria Turner and my daughter, Darlene, were co-captains of the only championship girls' basketball team in Amphi High School history. They were best of friends (and still are) and as competitive as the day is long.

Catherria (pronounced Cath-uh-REE-yuh; you'd be amazed at how many different and truly unique ways there are to butcher it) is simply the best player I've ever seen. While Tucson is not exactly the hotbed for girls' basketball in America, it has produced some great players, including Paula Pyers and Rashida Jeffery (who both played at USC), Sybil Dosty and Julie Brase. Those other players were outstanding; Catherria was almost magical. She once scored 47 points in a game in which she took only 22 shots. She averaged 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 steals a game for an entire season. When teams would try to press us, we'd get the ball in to Catherria and she would dribble past all five defenders, one by one, coming tantalizingly close to each, before heading to the basket. Teams that did so would press us exactly once.

She was recruited to Oregon and led the team to the NIT championship as a freshman. Then came turmoil in the program that led to a coaching change and Catherria transferred. She was recruited by Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who would later be named national coach of the year after leading Baylor to the NCAA championship. But Catherria had promised her grandmother that she would get her college degree in four years, and in order to make good on her promise, she ended up at Oklahoma State. While there, she was among the top in the nation in assists and minutes played, was team captain and was named to the Big 12's all-academic team.

After college, she set out to become a coach. One of her goals was to become a head coach by the age of 30 (a rare feat, indeed). She started out at a place called Simpson College in Iowa. From there, she spent time at the University of Maine and then across the country at the University of Portland. While at Portland, she was named Miss Black Oregon USA and also found time to earn her master's degree.

While still in her 20s, she was named head coach at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. After piecing together a competitive squad using kite string and gumption, she applied for (and got) the job at Dixie State University, a Division II school in St. George, Utah. So, at the ripe old age of 30, she's already on her second college head coaching job, with the sky definitely the limit. (One odd note: The athletic director who hired her at Dixie, Jason Boothe, is a graduate of Canyon Del Oro High School.)

Just to show how incredibly crappy life can be, Catherria met this guy while she was playing at Oklahoma State. Nice guy, head on straight, respectful as all hell. It slowly blossomed into something and was well on its way to becoming Something when she graduated and began her coaching odyssey. To his eternal credit, he wouldn't be deterred by the thousands of miles between them. They maintained a semblance of a romance and when she got her first head coaching job at Holy Names, he figured it was time to make his move (literally). He decided to leave his job in Houston and move to Oakland to start a new career and be near his honey. A few days before the planned move, he dropped dead of a heart attack.

"Twenty-seven years old," explains Catherria's father, Stevie. "Athletic, in good shape. No drugs, no alcohol, no reason."

She had to lean hard on her faith to get her through that. I don't know if she'll ever be completely over it, but when I saw her recently, she was upbeat and feisty and focused. Ever the sensitive soul, I told her that now that she's living in Utah, she could become somebody's Sista Wife.

Right before Christmas, Darlene and I drove to Las Vegas to watch Catherria coach her team in a two-day tournament at The Orleans. (This place is ridiculous. It has a 6,000-seat arena, a 72-lane bowling alley, an 18-screen movie theater, and a full food court—all of which is paid for by lots of old people, one quarter at a time.)

Her team split the two games and for the season is playing right around .500, which is miraculous considering she wasn't hired until May and missed out on the recruiting season. The other night, I spent six bucks to watch online as her team won the first of three games during a weeklong conference swing through Hawaii. Tough work if you can get it.

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