The University of Connecticut took a chance on hiring a journeyman assistant coach from the University of Virginia in 1985, in hopes of making something of its women’s basketball team.
Seventeen Final Fours and 11 national championships later, Geno Auriemma has made the UConn women’s basketball program the standard by which all other programs are measured—men or women.
Arizona Athletics Director, Greg Byrne, is hoping for the same stroke of luck in the hire of alumna Adia Barnes.
“We hired her because she is a great coach, great in skill development, wonderful in recruiting and if you talk to the student-athletes that played for her, they loved their experience,” Byrne said at Barnes’ introductory press conference on April 5. “She cared about them athletically, academically and socially.”
There is a process to everything, and Barnes will undoubtedly have hers as she embarks on her new journey as Wildcat head coach, but what will it take to turn this underachieving program around?
Barnes seems to have the idea of how to do it when she speaks about her experience at the University of Washington.
“I know where we need to be as a program and how the bar is set and I know it’s possible because in five years, we did it,” Barnes said.
First and foremost, she will have to assess what assets she is inheriting. Barnes is off to a head start with a top facility at her disposal.
The difficulty comes in properly breaking down what tools she has to work with on the court and how to best utilize them—something her predecessor, Niya Butts, struggled with.
The Wildcats’ play throughout the season left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t uncommon to see the players trickling out of the locker room after being down at halftime in a lazy, “I don’t want to be here” kind of way. So, was it the coaching or the players themselves?
Assessing this year’s squad may be difficult for Barnes with having to decipher between effort and ability. Barnes’ credibility as a player will undoubtedly give her an advantage over her predecessor. Barnes played at every level including the WNBA; she has also played every role in her career from standout to the end of the bench.
Her ability to relate to players will be key in turning this program that has bathed in the soil of apathetic play for far too long. Barnes appears to be dealing with this complex issue by wiping the slate clean and letting the performance of those around her speak for itself.
“The most important thing is to take care of my team, the players and giving opportunities; it’s a clean slate,” Barnes said.
There is only one departing senior in Keyahndra Cannon this year, so on paper, there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room for additions.
However, if you’re looking for Barnes to make a quick splash on the recruiting trail, don’t hold your breath, as only three of the top-100 women in the country haven’t committed, according to ESPN’s Hoopgurlz ratings.
Next season could be the tone-setter for this program as the Wildcats will have six seniors. Losing that many team members gives the Wildcats an advantage in recruiting a multitude of players.
In addition, Hoopgurlz has 17 of the top-60 recruits in the country hailing from the West Coast or Texas.
The ability and freedom to bring in that many individuals can set the team up for success in the long term, and one of the more intriguing aspects of hiring Barnes is her ability to branch out worldwide to recruit. Sean Miller, on the men’s side, has done this several times with recruits like Kyryl Natyazhko, Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen.
Barnes will look overseas in hopes of scoring a premier player and her experiences within basketball. In addition, her husband, Salvo Coppa, should help with that.
Coppa is a coach as well with his family roots overseas and has several years of coaching experience in stints with the Seattle Storm of the WNBA, Montana State University and the Thailand national team.
It is not known at this time if Barnes will add Coppa to her staff.
One option Barnes may take advantage of is bringing back Charise Holloway, who sat out last season.
Holloway could be used for her redshirt year and bringing her back as a redshirt sophomore would be a start, provided she remains focused.
Holloway averaged 6.6 points per game as a freshman and hit several big shots during the course of her first year, including a game-winner against Oregon at home. Her addition would lighten the pressure of having to find a player on the recruiting trail to make a similar impact.
The road for Barnes will be filled with many potholes, but the payoff could be huge.
Tucson saw a turnaround similar to what Barnes is trying to orchestrate years ago when a tall, slim white-haired gentleman by the name of Lute Olson flipped the script of a fledgling program in the desert. That seemed to work out pretty well.
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