Destination: Arizona

Saul Bookman interviews Arizona women's basketball coach Adia Barnes about the current status of the program. From the season outlook to the future with the No. 5 recruiting class in the country next season, Barnes is poised to push women's hoops to another level.

Started from the bottom, now they’re here. Well, almost. 

A program that was once an afterthought in the Pac-12 is close to making its arrival onto the national spotlight.  

In just her second season as the Arizona women’s basketball head coach, Adia Barnes has positioned the University of Arizona to be among the future staples of college basketball recruiting, possibly joining the likes of Connecticut and Tennessee. Barnes’ 2018 recruiting class is currently ranked as the fifth-best class in the nation, according to ProspectsNation.com, behind Tennessee at No. 4 and UConn and No. 3. It’s a pretty remarkable feat, considering the program hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2011. It only had one official recruiting visit two years ago. 

“It took a tremendous amount of heart, like blood, sweat and tears,” Barnes said. “It was our hardest year last year. I mean we had, I think it was 16 official visits… we had like 29 unofficials. So it was just a tremendous amount of things and work, but that’s what it is when you’re building a program.”  

Over the last several months, Barnes has reeled in several five-star recruits such as forward Cate Reese, center Semaj Smith and Italian forward Valeria Trucco to help build her program. 

Add in the fact that she also snagged highly-rated transfers, including Aarion McDonald, a member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team at Washington last year as well as Dominique McBryde, a former five-star recruit from Purdue, and Barnes’ reconstruction of the UA might take the final form of a skyscraper down the line. 

So, how did she assemble so much talent in so little time?

“We didn’t have a weekend off for probably like six months,” Barnes said. “But it doesn’t matter. The work paid off… we shot high, we went after some really top kids.” 

The second-year head coach said she thought they’d swing and miss on a few of them, but instead she hit a home-run. And one of the selling points for recruits and transfers has been Barnes’ vision. Barnes’ coaching and recruiting philosophy hasn’t just been about building something special on the court, it’s also been about being successful beyond it. 

“My job as a coach is to prepare these women for life,” Barnes said.

For instance, Barnes helps instill good values in her team by engaging them in community service. This year’s team is building a house with Habitat For Humanity, an experience Barnes said is changing the women’s lives. 

Barnes said she prioritizes the role of preparing her teams to handle life after basketball, because she went through something similar in school and it made her a better person. 

“Giving out and giving back and serving is very important,” Barnes said. “You start to appreciate more, you learn how to go talk to people, you make connections in the community.” 

The new culture of success on and off the court is one that has begun to transform a once-lowly program and give it new life — one that has attracted some of the best talent from around the world. Slowly but surely, Barnes is starting to turn Arizona into a premier women’s basketball destination, and the 2018 class has a chance to be an embodiment of that.  

“We still have a long ways to go,” Barnes said. “It’s not like we have the No. 4 class and we’re just going to be all of the sudden, like, win the Pac-12. It’s a process, it takes time, it’s getting those eight of nine players, new players to play well together and play well after sitting out a year and integrate the freshman.” 

The 2017-18 season is just underway and Barnes will probably be keeping her focus on the current season; but the future looks bright in Tucson.



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