Only at Gonzaga College High School would a second place finish in the division not be considered enough.

Basketball has become a staple for the Gonzaga Eagles, and the ending to their 2010-2011 campaign could have been defined as marvelous—depending upon who you ask. A 26-8 record and the co-regular season championship in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) might have looked even better if not for an ankle injury to their second-leading scorer in the conference playoffs. And considering that the historic Washington, D.C. prep school introduced three sophomores to the starting lineup this past year, the season should be taken as a success.

Head coach Steve Turner’s team adjusted well after losing three starters to graduation the previous summer. For the coming season, as usual, the expectations are once again high in the District for Turner and the Eagles. Although WCAC power DeMatha is still a thorn in Gonzaga’s side, a talented trio of rising juniors—point guard Nate Britt, power forward Kris Jenkins and versatile wing D.J. Fenner—have the talent and the experience to propel the Eagles to new heights this fall. The AFRO caught up with Turner recently to discuss Gonzaga’s past, present and what could be a very bright future.

AFRO: Coach, you started off last year with a host of new starters but you kept the ball rolling smoothly. Talk about the rebuilding process that the team underwent last season.

Turner: I didn’t really feel like we were in a rebuilding process to be honest. Although we lost about 80 percent of our offense from the previous season, I always felt like from watching our team through the summer and mini camps that we were going to be a good team. Our young guys grew up really quick and with the addition of D.J. , we grew into a really good team. We ended up co-regular season champs with DeMatha.

AFRO: Anybody who has watched you coach before, the first few things they’ll point out is your passion and fire. You really get into the game and lead your guys. Could you talk about your coaching style and who you pattern your style after?

Turner: I think it comes natural. I have a strong passion for my guys and for Gonzaga. I’ve been there now 12 years. This past season was my seventh as the head coach and I think I coach the same way I used to play. I was a point guard who left it all on the line. My job every night was to be the leader and I played with a lot of fiery passion and I coach the same way. Some people take it the wrong way but those who play for me know where I’m coming from and what I care about and that’s them. I just try my best to give my heart and soul to my team and community. I want us to be one of the best programs in the country.

AFRO: Britt and Jenkins arrived to your program as freshmen, so they’re your babies, so to speak. Fenner, however, was a transfer from Washington who arrived shortly before the season to give you an athletic wing. Talk about his development this past year.

Turner: I thought early on he was trying to find his way and find where he fits in and he also had to learn everything that we do. He wasn’t with us last summer so it wasn’t like he had a whole summer to get a grasp of the system. He had to do it while on the job in the thick of everything so hats off to him. We, as a staff, are proud of him. He got a better understanding of where he could get his and it made us better as we went into the second half of the season.

AFRO: Coming off a campaign where you finished second place in what was really a retooling year, the expectations are through the roof for this fall. Both Britt and Jenkins took large leaps from their freshmen to sophomore years and Fenner was a pleasant surprise as a transfer and you also have some new additions to the team. What are you looking forward to this season?

Turner: It doesn’t matter what year it is, our goal is the same every year: win our league, win the WCAC, try to win the city title and win the Alahambra Tournament. The goals never change. Every year is like the circus: same circus but a new cast of characters and I like the cast of characters that I’m going into the season with. These guys work hard and they believe in each other. They’re all gym rats, they want to be in the gym, they want to be in the weight room, they want to get better and I think they’re excited about how we finished this past season and what we really can be next year and beyond.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO