All in the family
Athletes have often looked at their teams as a family, a home away from home of sorts. When it comes to Adia Barnes and husband Salvo Coppa, the basketball court might as well be their living room. The only difference is that instead of solely being responsible for their two-year-old son, Matteo, they also incorporate an extended family of which they spend a majority of their time with, the Arizona women’s basketball team.
Barnes is in her second year as head coach with Coppa by her side every step of the way. The dynamic is not unusual to the Pac-12 with several coaches having their significant others occupying the bench next to them. What is unusual would be the chemistry between the two.
Coppa comes from Spain and Barnes a native of San Diego. The European way of life is more intimate, filled with more personal touching than Americans are used too. It’s a form of communication, but one that Barnes affectionately avoids each appearance in the public eye. This, you’d think would make it difficult to be around each other constantly, but there is a clear line when they are at work.
“You’ll never see, I mean I love holding Salvo’s hand, but you’ll never see us holding hands or kiss in McKale,” Barnes said. “…When I leave for a week long road trip in the office I don’t go up and give Salvo a kiss, I probably should, in the office we just don’t. In the office we’re both very professional…I really take into consideration my staff and how they feel.”
Coaxing Barnes to explain their relationship is not easy though she smiles when detailing how the two met and that at home the environment is different, basketball is not involved. Home is an escape, a chance to reconnect with their son and spend time together before regrouping in preparation for the next day. It is those intimate moments between a husband and wife that no one will ever see, the moments that keep the bonds of their marriage strong.
Barnes and Coppa don’t go into great detail about their long lasting romance, but Assistant Coach Morgan Valley will. Valley has been friends with Barnes for the past nine years, including during Barnes time at Washington. Ironically, it was Valley that was able to get Barnes a coaching position to start her career and now it is Barnes who hired Valley as soon as former assistant Kelly Finley departed for Florida. So Valley has a fond memory when finding out about their relationship years ago.
“We were in a gym in Georgia, it was the first time I met him (Coppa), I had heard about him from Adia,” Valley said. “Back then he didn’t really know me and he was just so handsome, I kept telling her how handsome he was, he got all embarrassed. She kept telling me, “You’re embarrassing him”, but I was like, “I know I am, I’m doing it on purpose.”
Valley’s expression is evidence enough that she believes in the two and their relationship. Having Barnes reinforce the handsome factor is validation that Valley speaks the truth. Barnes says she was attracted to Coppa because of his good looks, especially in a suit, and his accent. She says that over ten years they have grown closer and that they’ve never been tighter as a family.
What Barnes and Coppa have together is unique, made more so by a dynamic in the offices of McKale that clearly defines the roles between the two, head coach and assistant. Coppa occupies the smallest office in the women’s basketball department, out of sight from Barnes for a calculated reason, there is no preferential treatment. Preferential treatment is designated for her players and that is where it will remain.
“You really wouldn’t notice. Adia doesn’t treat him any differently than she would treat us,” Valley said. “He is actually one of the few males I have worked with in this profession with no ego.”
Quietly, Barnes and her staff have developed an environment suitable for any daughter in the country to feel comfortable. Academics, athletics, support and a family like atmosphere that separates Arizona from so many others. A lot of coaches in the country say their program is a family, Barnes and Coppa are examples that they live it and share that with each recruit. It has aided in a big way to advance the talent of a once down-trodden program in a hurry. Barnes currently has the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in the country for next season. Couple that with a stable of transfers who produced at prior power five conference schools and the Wildcats have the makings of a program on the rise.
“It’s not that easy when you have 35-40 schools offering you the same thing,” Valley said. “But coach (Barnes) is the best recruiter I’ve been around because she cares. She really, really cares. It’s not just smoke and mirrors, she means things when she says them. She checks in on the players, it’s not just the assistants doing that. She is in contact with our players on a daily basis. I think people feel that, parents feel that and they trust that she is going to take care of their child for the next four years.”
That statement alone is enough to make someone stop in their tracks. Valley was part of four Final Fours and three National Championship teams at UCONN with head coach Geno Auriemma. She was also apart of his staff at one time, so labeling Barnes as the best recruiter is no light statement.
Their nurturing style isn’t fake, often times their son Matteo would be taken on road trips to avoid days without seeing him. It is all about family for the two. Each person brought into the program has been calculated as to what they can bring and more importantly the character that comes along with them. In essence, each player and coach becomes an aunt or uncle to a young boy growing up with his parents in the public eye. It is this type of buy-in that has Arizona one of the more unlikely destinations for any young basketball player.
“He is a very good dad and he is very good with Matteo, we’re both really involved,” Barnes said. “We both take him to daycare and a lot of times we’ll take him together. Just because it is important to us, he is only two once…it’s great for the players because they get to see us in a different setting…they get to see me having to work and having to be a mom and that you can do it. I think it’s really great mentoring.”
Their relationship in terms of husband and wife, is no different than any other family trying to make it through a crazy world. The circumstances of their work environment are different, sure, but the perspective they have in trying to raise two families, one personal and one basketball, is very similar. It is all about equalling everything out.
“I am the one who makes the sacrifice,” says Coppa jokingly. “Balance is very important, I don’t believe that getting up at six o’clock in the morning and starting to talk about basketball until midnight is healthy. It’s not healthy for your job, not healthy for your relationship.”
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