By Craig Morgan, thesundevils.com Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Charli Turner Thorne and Meg Sanders took a recruiting trip to Germany last fall. After a long flight to Zurich, Switzerland, they made the drive across the border in a rental car with a governor that capped the car's top speed and sounded a startling alarm every time the driver approached that top speed.
"It happened like 20 times," Sanders said. "I kept wondering 'are they going to give me a citation?'"
Upon arriving at their hotel in Freiburg, and exhausted from a lengthy and tense travel day, Sanders went to bed.
Turner Thorne had other plans.
"She walked around town seeing how many people would say hello to her because she couldn't sleep," Sanders said, laughing.
That's Arizona State's women's basketball coach in a nutshell: boundless energy, thirsty for knowledge, open to new experiences and new people, and assertive in her approach to achieving her goals.
"She's genuine, determined and just excited about life," Sun Devils senior guard Arnecia Hawkins said. "She's someone who really wants to help others."
Turner Thorne has already helped her teams accomplish more than any previous ASU coach. Her 379 wins, 202 conference wins and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances are far more than any coach in ASU history. She has taken ASU to four Sweet Sixteens and she is the only ASU coach to take a team to the NCAA Elite Eight, doing it twice in 2007 and 2009.
Last month, Turner Thorne added another milestone when the Sun Devils clinched a share of their second conference title and first in the Pac-12 era, setting them up as the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the program’s highest seed ever.
Turner Thorne, who was named the 2016 John R. Wooden Pac-12 Coach of the Year – an award voted on by her fellow coaches – still burns to reach the Final Four and her team's full-court defensive intensity is a reflection of the blue-collar approach she brought to her playing days at Stanford.
"I am who I am," she said. "I'm 5-5 on my best day in good shoes and I'm small boned. I could never get by on my talent so this is the only way I know to do things."
Turner Thorne has never lacked for confidence. When former ASU associate athletic director Sandy Hatfield-Clubb hired her in 1996, the Sun Devils had won just 20 games combined in their past three seasons.
"In the interview she said 'in my fifth year we'll go to the NCAA Tournament,'" Hatfield-Clubb recalled. "I remember saying, 'sure, sure' while I was thinking we'd have a much longer road than that."
"Sure enough, in her fifth year, we went to the NCAA Tournament."
It was that confidence that, in part, led former Washington coach Chris Gobrecht to give Turner Thorne her start in coaching when she brought her on as a graduate assistant for the Huskies after Turner Thorne earned her master’s degree in education from Washington in 1990.
"In many ways, she was the same person she is now," Gobrecht said. "But here's what's great about Charli. Very few people can have her level of intensity and still be so incredibly warm and caring. That’s a rare combination.
"To be that driven and still have that much of a heart for people, that's why she's successful. Her players know that and her staff, which she trusts immensely, also knows that. That's a tough balance to strike for coaches who get so fixated on goals that they forget it's about the people."
At the same time, Turner Thorne said she has gained a broader perspective and a better life balance from her one-year sabbatical (2011-12), motherhood, voracious reading and her 19 seasons on the job.
"I really work hard to just enjoy the moment," she said. "Before, the talk was always 'can you get to Final Four' and you can really get caught up in the pressure of that, but I don't put that on our team and in my own mind, I'm better at recognizing what this is all about.
"What these players get out of this experience and what they feel when they're done with their college careers is much more important than 'did we win?'"
Hawkins said that attitude permeates the team.
"Those qualities help connect all of us on more levels than just playing basketball together," she said. "It creates chemistry off the court where we're laughing and joking like sisters, and that helps us when we get back on the court.
"Charli is really set on making sure her team is a family with values like trust and love and communication. It makes you excited to think about what we're capable of doing."