Commentary

Turner, Kelley are better together

Former high school rivals have joined forces in Nebraska's backcourt

Originally Published: March 27, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Nebraska guards Vonnie Turner and Dominique Kelley were rivals in high school … but not get-under-your-skin, I'm-gonna-kick-your-tail kind of rivals.

[+] EnlargeDominique Kelley
AP Photo/Hannah FoslienDominique Kelley ranks third in scoring at Nebraska at 12.3 ppg, shooting 42 percent from 3-point range.

"I'm not a trash-talker," Kelley said. Which is just as well, because, she adds, "We're roommates now."

However, there does remain just a very slight dispute over something that happened in a 2005 Nebraska Class A state title game in which they were foes.

Kelley, a junior, was born and raised in Lincoln, Neb., and went to Lincoln Northeast High. The senior Turner, a native of Omaha an hour's drive away, attended Bellevue East High there.

"The way we won that game my sophomore year is I took a charge from Vonnie, and she fouled out of the game," Kelley said.

And it definitely was a charge, right?

"Oh, yes," Kelley said. "Definitely."

Turner: "It was a flop."

Kelley: "She can always come back and say, 'Well, I beat you when I was a senior.'"

Which is true. Turner, who is a year older, won the championship game rematch in 2006.

"Vonnie was someone who was talked about a lot in high school," Kelley said. "She was that one player that everybody kind of feared.

"It was a big-time high school rivalry game when we played; a lot of fans came out and watched it. Of course, Coach Yori was recruiting both of us, so it heightened everything, and everyone was talking about us being potential teammates in college."

Indeed, Nebraska coach Connie Yori had watched their games whenever she could, hoping to lure both to be Huskers. In particular, Yori said she never worked harder to recruit any player than she did Kelley.

That's because even though Kelley was from right there in Lincoln, home of the University of Nebraska, Yori was rightly worried about losing her.

"I had taken a visit to Colorado, and I was pretty sold I would end up there," Kelley said.

But it wasn't the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains that had appealed to Kelley.

"I'm not an outdoors person," she said. "I hate camping, being outside, bugs. I have really bad allergies. Don't like any of that stuff.

"What I was sold on was the personalities of the coaches. I'm a really people-oriented person, and I just related well to them."

After more consideration, though, Kelley decided that she was best off to stay home. She got along fine with Yori, too, and she had other reasons to remain in Lincoln.

"It meant my mom could be a really big part of my college experience," Kelley said. "And I have a sister -- we're 22 months apart -- who is my best friend, so I can still see her all the time. Plus the amount of support the state of Nebraska shows their athletes is something I didn't feel I was willing to trade for anything else.

"It was still hard for me. I knew I had every opportunity to be successful here. But I was torn because I felt like everybody should leave and experience something else, be on your own for the first time. So I went back and forth a lot. But I sat down with my high school coach and figured out I would not have a better experience elsewhere than I would have here."

[+] EnlargeYvonne Turner
John S Peterson/Icon SMIA self-described defensive specialist, Yvonne Turner also has hit a team-leading 81 3-pointers en route to 11.8 ppg this season.

Certainly this year, it would have been difficult for things to be much better. The Huskers were undefeated until the Big 12 tournament semifinals, drawing big crowds at home during this magical season and winning the program's first conference regular-season title.

Now, just three hours south of Lincoln, the Huskers are the No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Regional and will face No. 4 Kentucky on Sunday (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, 9:30 p.m. ET) in the Huskers' first NCAA Sweet 16.

Turner was a reserve for the Huskers as a freshman in 2006-07. Since then, she and Kelley have started in the backcourt together in all but three of the Huskers' past 97 games.

Kelley is averaging 12.3 points per game and Turner 11.8. They've combined for 112 assists and 89 steals this season.

"They're very different -- personality differences and just style-of-play differences," Yori said. "Nique is the prototypical slasher, offensive rebounder, plays low to the ground. Vonnie is more the high-flying, transition player with a 3-point shot.

"Yet they complement each other well and play off each other's strengths. Last year, Vonnie played the point guard, and moving her to more of the 2 this year has made us better. It's changed her game, but for the good."

The switch was made because freshman Lindsey Moore came in this season to run the point.

"They have been so open to have this freshman come in and start, and that says a lot about them that they so easily accepted that," Yori said of Turner and Kelley. "They're both outgoing and very humble.

"Nique is just an unusual college kid -- she has a great sense of people, very mature. I call her 'the mayor' because everyone in Lincoln knows her and she's so well-liked by so many people of different backgrounds. She's one of those great glue people who makes your team better. Vonnie is happy and bubbly."

Kelley says the same thing about Turner.

"She has the ability to light up a room," Kelley said. "I guess not immediately would you think she's that outgoing, but she is. She is somebody who is willing to do anything you need.

"In terms of our style and what we bring to the game, we're high-energy kids who feed off of making that pass for a big play. We both take a lot of pride in our defense. That was one of the other things that sold me on Nebraska; I wanted to play in a backcourt like that with Vonnie that's going to get up and pressure people."

Turner considers herself a defensive player first and foremost, but she also has hit a team-best 81 3-pointers this season. That's compared with 57 in 2008-09, when she was dealing with shoulder problems all season. She had surgery when the season ended, and it has helped her shooting.

As for being teammates with her onetime high school foe, Turner said it has been a perfect pairing.

"I would say she's more emotional than I am; she can get things going," Turner said of Kelley. "We're both two players who like to get after the ball and pressure teams, and be aggressive on offense. To have somebody else in the backcourt like that is really nice."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.