The McKale Center basketball offices are intimidating. Hardwood floors line the halls of both the women’s and men’s offices, and inside the offices are lavish and expansive.
The offices were remodeled in 2014 along with the rest of McKale Center, and they’re a perfect fit for new women’s head coach Adia Barnes.
Barnes is intense. Arguably the best women’s basketball player in Arizona history, she was an undersized center who played with a toughness that earned her comparisons to players like Charles Barkley during her career. She finished as the leading scorer in Arizona women’s basketball history, and is back home looking to bring that same toughness to the Arizona program.
Barnes says her toughness didn’t come from any experiences or influences; that’s just how she is.
“I don’t know where it came from, it’s just me,” said Barnes. “I look for that as I’m recruiting, those little intangible things like how does someone respond. I think sometimes you can’t teach that, you’re just that way.”
A culture change is necessary for the women’s program. During the tenure of Niya Butts, the Wildcats had only one winning season out of her eight as head coach, including a record of 34-110 in conference play.
Regardless of this year’s win-loss record, Barnes vows there will be a culture change this season.
“The most important thing when you take over a program is culture,” said Barnes. “I think it’s important to work hard, play hard, be invested and to want to be great every day. I think that [the team] is all bought in, I have six seniors. My job is to come in, and change the culture. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a daily process of building things.”
Barnes’ experience as a pro has helped shape the mentality she wants to bring to the team. Barnes played in the WNBA as well as overseas, and wants to instill the work ethic she learned as a pro into her program.
“The culture of wanting to get better on your own, wanting to shoot extra, that’s my expectation. You have to shoot and work on your game outside [practice] so I’m trying to build that culture where that’s the thing to do,” said Barnes.
While playing in the WNBA, Barnes was part of a championship team with the Seattle Storm, and believes that it’s the little things a championship team does that sets them apart. These intangible things are familiar to Barnes.
“I just know what it takes. The great teams have those small intangible things,” said Barnes. “You have to have those to be successful. They huddle, they touch, they high-five. They’re excited about each other, they’re bought in. I think that’s what championship teams have. You’re going to see a difference in that [this year] for sure.”
Besides culture, recruiting has been an issue for the program. Coach Barnes jumped on the recruiting trail right away, and has already made some big splashes.
“My recruiting philosophy has been effective. Being able to bring that [philosophy] from Washington, we built a Final Four team in Washington and built a top-20 class, that [philosophy] has worked. Our [coaching staff] all have different niches and were all really good recruiters, so bringing that here and putting it together the plan has worked and we’ve been really successful.”
Barnes isn’t just selling her program with that statement either. Arizona brought in freshman Lucia Alonso late in the recruiting process, and she will bring a remarkable amount of experience to the team for a freshman. Alonso is a native of Spain and has competed, and thrived, with the U18 Spanish national team.
The program also landed a verbal commitment from Shalyse Smith for the class of 2018. Smith had offers from multiple schools within the Pac-12, and it is an early, unexpected victory for Barnes and her staff.
It may take some time for the improvements in the women’s program to show in their wins and losses record, but Barnes knows this, and is already taking the appropriate steps. It’s the little things that turn a program around, and Barnes is prepared to do the little things in a big way.
“I know that we will be the best in the country at bringing someone in and helping them grow on and off the floor completely,” said Barnes. “As a basketball player and as a young woman they will leave here a different person, that’s something I can guarantee. That’s something I know we can do and we will be the best in the country at that.”
Arizona women’s basketball is ready to take the first step in rebuilding, and they have hired the right coach for the job.
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