The question — talk about the three most memorable moments of your career — was a simple one.
Adia Barnes’ answers were, well, complicated. Arizona’s second-year coach still remembers being offered a scholarship to play at the UA. And winning the WNIT. And making the Sweet 16 in her senior season.
Of course, there’s more. Like being drafted to play professionally, and playing her first WNBA game. Coaching Washington to the Final Four. Being named the Wildcats’ head coach. And her visits — and life — overseas.
Barnes took some time to revisit her career highlights as the Arizona Wildcats prepared for Sunday’s game against Oregon State:
Why does your 2004 WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm stand out?
A: “Our team had great chemistry. Of course, it was bittersweet for me. It was one of the hardest times, yet one of the most rewarding. It was personally not one of my best years. I tore my ACL in 2003 after being a starter and being in the best shape of my life. I was shooting 3s, and that was not my shot. It was the first injury of my career. I had never even gotten a sprained ankle. It was hard. I was not ready to come back and my knee wasn’t 100 percent, but we won the championship.
“We had great players like Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Betty Lenox. The key to it was the glue players: me, Alicia Thompson and Simone Edwards. The role players would have done anything and I think that was the difference. It was surreal. We had a tremendous home-court advantage; the best fans in the world. It was electric. We were on the front page of the paper for weeks.
“They had a parade for us and it was huge, maybe 30,000 people. We were all in convertibles. It was so fun, so special. To be part of that, I have that for the rest of my life. The fans were amazing; it was a great team, we were close friends. All the stars aligned, it was special.”
Why was your visit to the Final Four as a coach with Washington so special?
A: “I had been to the Final Four before, as they have a coaches’ conference there. It’s so different when you are in it. That team was special; we weren’t the team anyone thought would be there. It’s like the pros, the right things have to happen at the same time. Like you all get hot at the same time. That’s why it’s so impressive that Geno (Auriemma) goes every year.
“There are a lot of distractions and everything goes by so fast. For me, I was accepting my job here at UA. So a lot is going on and you are trying to stay focused. It is exciting. When we played against Maryland in D.C., 20 cop cars were stopping traffic on the freeway, like we were the president. It was awesome. Then, we were going to the Indianapolis 500 race track for a special dinner and the bus was on the track. We had open practices, and thousands of people were there to see what you do and your strategy. Everything is magnified and bigger. There were tons of media and people were following you and asking for autographs. The atmosphere feels different. It’s not just a game, even though it is. The environment is fun.”
How do you think these two experiences help you coach here at UA?
A: “By experiencing something very special that most people don’t experience, I understand the work it takes to get there and what it looks like. Everything has to click at the same time and come together. I know what it is to be in a huge game. It’s so valuable. I know what chemistry looks like; I know what leadership looks like. If you never been there and seen it, how would you know what it takes?
“I think these things help me as a coach: that I’ve been an All-American, I started in the WNBA, I’ve played off the bench in the WNBA and I’ve barely played. It creates value: I understand that you can work hard and don’t always get the opportunities. Some great players haven’t felt the other side. I’ve gone in the last 20 seconds of the game, it’s hard. I’ve been cut before and it’s hard. It made me more resilient. I know what it takes, what it looks like to work at an elite level. It’s another level and you don’t know what it’s like until you do it.”
How has living and playing in other countries influenced your life?
A: “I’ve lived in countries where I was the only American on the team. It made me better culturally. I am more sensitive in how I interact with people. It’s made me a different person. I’ve taken a little piece of each culture into my life. In Israel, I thought they had amazing family values. They are so close. I was there during a war and every single person had someone die in a bombing. In Israel I saw one view, scared because of bombings. When I played in Turkey, I saw another view: the Muslim perspective. I loved their culture. My perception going into Turkey was so different than what it was actually like. It was eye-opening. Actually both cultures had so many similarities. All these things change who you are, how you raise your kids, and how you coach.
In 2005, you were part of the Jump4Life initiative along with other WNBA and NBA players and went to Kenya to run basketball clinics, give messages about awareness about the AIDS epidemic and living a healthy lifestyle. How did this impact you?
A: “It was life-changing. I had never seen what I saw in Africa. We don’t know what poor is in America. At first, I didn’t know why so many people were in the streets during the day. There were no jobs, so there was nowhere to go. Kids weren’t in school. The infrastructure is so bad, so they were just out.
“At one clinic they had gravel or asphalt that looked like little rocks, I don’t know how to say it, like it was man-made, not done by a machine. It would hurt to step on this and the kids were playing basketball with no shoes. It was sad.
“(Former NBA star) Kermit Washington built a center in a slum and we would all give stuff away. I would leave with no shoes, just wearing my flip flops. Or give away my sweatshirt. You’d want to give them everything; they had nothing. At the center, there was a kid would had brain damage and the shot that would have prevented it cost $2. How is this possible that this kid has brain damage because he couldn’t get a $2 shot? I was crying the whole trip.
“I bought every kid in the village shoes and it was the first time they had shoes. I wanted to bring kids home. I bought a $100 statue; I bought everything, because this money could help them. I thought, I can help this person, this person, this person. I felt bad eating because these kids hadn’t eaten in weeks. So I’d eat a little and give the rest to the kids. It was unbelievable; life-changing. I was so thankful for what we have, our resources, and where we were born. So many people don’t have the opportunities we have.”