One week ago, Washington coach Mike Neighbors resigned to take over as head coach at his alma mater, Arkansas.
Arizona women’s basketball fans got a little nervous.
Wildcats coach Adia Barnes spent 14 years in Seattle, first as a player and broadcaster for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and then as an assistant coach with the Huskies. She started the Adia Barnes Foundation there, and still calls the Pacific Northwest her second home.
It made sense, then, that Barnes would be mentioned as Neighbors’ possible replacement. The Seattle Times listed the UA coach as one of a handful of possible replacements.
Barnes, however, doesn’t plan on going anywhere. The Wildcats’ all-time-leading-scorer-turned-coach says she’s excited to build her alma mater into a contender.
“I love Arizona. I love everything about this place,” Barnes told the Star on Monday. “We’re building something really special here and I’m excited about our future. It’s always been my dream to coach where I played and where everything started for me.”
Barnes has spent the past week — actually the past five weeks — recruiting future Wildcats and touching base with her current players. The UA’s season ended March 2 with a 70-63 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Wildcats went 14-16 overall and 5-13 in Pac-12 play in Barnes’ first season, an improvement over their final few seasons under Niya Butts.
“I think our season ending early was a huge advantage,” Barnes said. “Yes, I wanted to play in the postseason for the seniors, if only we had won one more game. However, this way I was able to get three players — LaBrittney Jones, Dejza James, and Breanna Workman — into the (WNBA) combine. It’s invite-only and gives them exposure to help them if they want to play professionally.
“I also did home visits. In those two weeks I was in eight cities, I was everywhere. And it was really beneficial. We have one recruit coming back for an official visit.”
Barnes’ hard work is already paying off. The Wildcats are competing against established programs like Syracuse and Ohio State for players. By the end of this weekend, the UA will have hosted 20 recruits on official visits.
Four or five players will visit this weekend, Barnes said.
“This is the most important recruiting weekend since we’ve been here,” she said. “Realistically, we could have three more commitments by the end of April. I’d be very happy if we did. I will know about three fifth-years, a transfer and two underclassmen. It would give us a lot — eight or nine new players. And, it affects both 2017 and 2018 classes, a few for each. Then we get on a roll.
“This is how Oregon did it. It takes a few years, then Oregon has a freshman class in the Sweet 16. Same with Oregon State, and UCLA took four years. I look at them and I’m optimistic.”
JaLea Bennett, Taryn Griffey, Destiny Graham, Lucia Alonso, Bria Rice, Eugenie Simonet-Keller and Charise Holloway are all expected to return next season. They’ll be joined by five newcomers: Sam Fatkin, Sam Thomas, Kiana Chew, Marlee Kyles and Mallory Vaughn.
Barnes has already landed verbal commitments from two players. Phoenix Arcadia’s Bryce Nixon and Seattle product Shalyse Smith will be joined by a handful of other recruits, some of whom could make up their minds shortly.
“After this, the focus is on 2019,” Barnes said. “Then we get ahead and start building relationships, which is important. In the fall we have more visits. Recruiting is a lifeline, a process. It will get there. I have to keep reminding myself it is a marathon and not a sprint. But having a top-30 recruiting class definitely helps.
“In a perfect world there would be no limits on home visits … or at least six more. But, because of the rules, I can’t go on anymore until the fall.”