UTEP’s Cameasha Turner: ‘Basketball saved my life’


The list of academic and athletic honors earned by Cameasha Turner during her four years at UTEP is so lengthy that one might think everything has come easily during her young life.

Think again.

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Drugs, prostitution and gun fire were rampant in the downtrodden Dallas neighborhood where she lived, at times with as many as 13 family members and relatives crammed into a four-room apartment. The setting hardly seemed like a springboard to a decorated college career.

Turner, though, was able to rise far above such a difficult environment thanks to her love of basketball and dedication in the classroom.

“Basketball saved my life,” said the 5-9 senior guard, who was a valedictorian at Lincoln High School. “It taught me about the value of teamwork, about the value of having a good attitude and being coachable. It was an escape route when I was struggling and going through hard times.”

There were plenty of hard times.

Turner said her father has been incarcerated the last 21 years for murder and she last saw him when she was in the fourth grade. Given Turner was one of 11 siblings, including two step-children, the daily grind was too often just that.

It was not unusual for Turner, who started playing basketball in the seventh grade, to endure days with very little to eat. She kept this from her coaches as long as she could, but there were days she passed out during practice from being hungry. She finally opened up to her coaches and they in turn helped with meals and even a place to stay from time to time.

“I honestly do not know how I coped,” she replied when asked about days when food was scarce. “When I went to school I did not want people to know what I was going through and I was kind of able to get by. My mom would always tell us that we need to eat breakfast and lunch (at school) because we understood that we probably would not have food when we got home.”

Through it all, her mother, Ophelia Davis, was a shining light. Davis, who attended Senior Night on Feb. 27, the first time she made it to El Paso to see her daughter in a home game, was an inspiration to Turner.

“She is the strongest woman I know and she has been a positive influence on my life,” said Turner. “She kept me focused and instilled values that I take with me every day like being hard working, independent and never making excuses. Seeing how she raised us showed me that no matter what I put my mind to I can do it.”

Her time at UTEP serves as proof. Last week the criminal justice major was named a second-team academic All-American, becoming the first player in program history to be so honored. She has also earned just about every Conference USA academic honor there is, including being a two-time commissioner’s medalist. One of the criteria for that distinction is to have at least a cumulative 3.75 GPA; Turner’s is 4.0.

The first in her family to attend college, Turner has been accepted into a number of postgraduate law programs, including that of Notre Dame. Her first choice is to attend Stanford, which she is waiting to hear back from, and she anticipates making a decision next month. Ultimately, she would like to become a judge.

“I want to represent minorities and give them a voice, educate them on their rights and provoke change,” said Turner, who has been active in student government. “Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to get involved with that.”

Her time to administer law in court can wait until she is through defending opponents on the court.

Turner heads into Thursday’s quarterfinal game of the conference tournament against UAB — the top-seeded Miners (25-3, 16-2) earned an opening-round bye — having earned CUSA first-team honors as well being named to the conference’s all-defensive team. A relentless defender who is often assigned to the opposition’s top wing, she is averaging 12.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals.

It is such production that Turner, who averaged a team-high 15.0 points last season, provided a glimpse of as a freshman when she started six of the final eight games. It was otherwise a tough start to her college basketball career, though.

As a decorated high school player Turner was able to get away with some things such as showing up late for practice. That was not going to fly at UTEP and it took a while to sink in. Miners coach Keitha Adams had to deliver tough love, including a suspension that freshman year.

“Her experience with basketball really required her to buy in, learn how to trust and have maturity and composure,” said Adams. “It is amazing the progress and the difference she has made from her freshman year to her senior year. She has had a true college experience with basketball, her academics and campus life. I am proud of her and excited to see how she moves forward in her life.”

Turner is thankful for the opportunities that Adams has provided.

“I struggled with discipline,” said Turner. “I thought I was perfect and I really wasn’t. I had a lot of learning to do and a lot of growing up to do. I had to understand that in life not a lot of people are given a second chance. I was and I really appreciate coach Adams for that. I matured a lot and I figured it out.”

To say Turner has come a long way would be a tremendous understatement. Her message to those enduring similar circumstances as what she grew up with is worthy of attention.

“Do the right things, be good to people and always have faith,” she said.
“You need to work hard, put your best foot forward and do not make excuses. If you want to play basketball or another sport just be true to what you are doing and try to be the best. If you do that everything will fall into place.”

Just like it has for Cameasha Turner.

Above: Cameasha Turner was one of 11 children and said her early life forged a desire to succeed. (Courtesy UTEP Athletics)
Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.