Big aspirations for 2018 and beyond

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Alex Kumar/Purdue Exponent | The Daily Wildcat Sophomore forward Dominique McBryde looks for an open teammate under the basket during Purdue's 74-64 loss to Maryland on March 5 in the championship game of the Big Ten Women's Tournament.

The Arizona women’s basketball team has never won a conference championship. They haven’t even sniffed the NCAA Tournament in quite some time. That could all be changing rapidly, and soon, because of the efforts of the Arizona coaching staff.

This season, the Wildcats are short-handed, the bi-product of securing talent in both the transfer market and on the recruiting trail. Beginning in 2017-18, Arizona will have a completely revamped lineup, and here is why:

The transfers (eligible to play next year)

Aaron McDonald, TeeTee Starks and Dominique McBryde headline a group of prior Power Five Conference transfers looking to restart their careers.

McDonald is a Washington transfer after being named to the 2017 All-Freshman Team in the Pac-12. She was a former Adia Barnes recruit, so when Washington head coach Mike Neighbors departed for Arkansas, she moved to Tucson. McDonald is lightening fast and has a good basketball IQ. She will jump in and most likely secure a spot at one of the two guard positions in the starting five. She will have three seasons of eligibility left.

Starks came from Iowa State after suffering a knee injury. Hailing from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, she appeared in all 31 games for the Cyclones last season and started in 14 games. Her All-Academic selection in the Big-12 last season is a key attribute for head coach Barnes and fits the makeup of the type of players she has been after. Though her numbers are eye-popping, Starks is a bigger wing than is currently on the roster and could see some matchups down low on the block next year. She will have two years of eligibility left.

McBryde is the low post assertive presence the Wildcats have been seeking. She and McDonald are the only two players on the team with NCAA Tournament experience. McBryde was solid for the Boilermakers a season ago, where she was named honorable mention All-Big Ten. She played in 35 games in the 2016-17 season while starting in 25 of them, averaging 6.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 26.1 minutes per contest, according to Arizona Athletics. Her experience and low post play will be a much needed addition to a team that is thin up front this year.


Courtesy Bryce Nixon
2018 Arizona commit Bryce Nixon dribbles up the court during a game in 2016. Nixon was this year's 5A Offensive Player of the Year.


The recruits

Cate Reese, Valeria Trucco, Bryce Nixon, Shalyse Smith and Semaj Smith all headline the No. 4-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to ProspectNation.com. 

Cate Reese was the headliner in the class early on, becoming the highest-ranked recruit in program history, No.14 overall nationally, according to ESPN Hoopgurlz ratings. She is one of three five-star prospects for next season. The scouting report on Reese from Hoopgurlz highlights her abilities: “Agile interior prospect brings high motor effort; consistent mid-post interior producer; pounds glass, brings toughness, quick to 50-50 balls; delivers inside 12’ with regularity; among the elite forwards in the class of 2018.”

Valeria Trucco is a 6-foot-4 forward from Torino, Italy. She is as polished as they come overseas and will add offensive versatility to the group next season. She has the ability to play in space, in tight quarters, inside, outside and can pass the ball as well.

Bryce Nixon is the lone guard in the class and comes from Phoenix by way of Arcadia High School. She is as good as an outside shooter as she is penetrator when trying to create offense. She can play either guard position and has the length to spot some time at small forward. Nixon continues the trend of length with this particular class.

Shalyse Smith is the other addition, the first commit to the class. Smith is a forward standing 6-foot-1 who Barnes loves athletically.

“The first time I saw Shalyse, I knew she would be special,” Barnes said on ArizonaAthletics.com. “She is a great athlete and a fierce competitor who is incredibly versatile and plays hard every time she steps onto the court. The passion that she plays with fits who we are and what we do in our culture. I love the way she plays with a chip on her shoulder and always plays like she has something to prove. Shalyse is the type of player you would absolutely hate to play against but would love to have on your team.”

Semaj Smith was the last commit to the class. She is a 6-foot-5 five-star prospect ranked No. 52 in HoopGurlz rankings. She was a late committee after considering Cal, Oklahoma State and Washington. This is ESPN’s assessment of the center: “Athletic front-court prospect patrols the key, alters shots, initiates fast break; mobile in transition game; emerging offensive arsenal; consistent at the free throw line; a stock-riser in the class of 2018 that “oozes” next level possibilities.”

All-in-all, the women’s basketball team will bring in eight new players next season that had previously never suited up for the Wildcats. It will be a transition unlike anything Arizona has seen in recent times and a complete overhaul from the past, besides would-be senior Destiny Graham. For Barnes and company, the future is now.



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