Bennett battles toward final season
JaLea Bennett is the lone senior remaining from the dark ages of Arizona women’s basketball. Bennett is the last of the 2014-15 recruiting class, and only one of two players remaining from one of the least-successful coaching tenures in school history, under former head coach Niya Butts. Talk about attrition. That kind of hindrance can make things difficult, including development.
Despite the slow start to her career, Bennett is now the focal point on a team that will need her leadership, and because of the lows she’s experienced with Arizona women’s basketball, she is fully prepared to do it.
A prospect out of Mansfield Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas, Bennett left the Wolves to join the Arizona Wildcats in 2014. In her first season, she played in all 30 games, starting 14 of them while averaging 4.5 points per game. Arizona went 11-19 while winning only three conference games that year.
The following season would see the Wildcats repeat that three-win mark in conference play, despite Bennett being one of two players to play in all 32 games that year.
So a change was inevitable and necessary for a program that has toiled in mediocrity for the better part of a decade.
Bennett is the foundation of a building process by head coach Adia Barnes that is beginning to change things in Tucson. In her third season, Bennett had to adjust to a new way of thinking, a new culture and a new style of play. She could’ve transferred, but she didn’t, opting to see what good could come with the new regime.
“I’m pretty confident, I am happy that I decided to stay all four years,” Bennett said. “I am very excited to see how the program turns out, even after I am gone.”
The results? Bennett, in her final season, has almost doubled her points per game average from her previous junior year high of 6.9 to 12.8 through five games for Arizona. Additionally, she is in the best shape of her career — lean, cut and looking the part of a senior leader. Bennett has always had the physical tools; her measurables are as good as any other guard in the country. Putting it on display, however, has only come in flashes prior to this season.
Pulling it all together is the focus for her final year. Doing so is mandatory for a team riddled with youth and inexperience. Bennett will have to take the reigns of a squad that features four scholarship freshman and only goes eight deep. But more than that, it is the belief in Bennett that Barnes has displayed that has made the biggest difference, both on and off the court.
“She just really believes in me, like she’s talked to me about stepping up this year and being a leader on the team,” Bennett said. “Even when I am done, she tells me I can still do good things in life.”
Bennett plans to test the professional waters after her career comes to an end, but after that, she has her sights set on the FBI. She intends to earn her undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice in order to prepare for that.
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