As junior Destiny Graham looked around the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium during the Arizona women’s basketball’s second official practice for the 2017-18 season Monday morning, she took in everything that’s new.
New teammates, a new assistant coach, a new slogan, a new style of play and a new vibe at practice.
Graham, who seems unflappable on the court, was a bit nervous at first. And who could blame her?
After all, five seniors graduated from last year’s squad that finished 14-16 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-12.
The only other players, besides Graham, who return from last season are senior JaLea Bennett and sophomore Lucia Alonso.
But, her nerves quickly faded.
Practices are loud as each player is communicating and helping their teammates. Whether it’s a junior helping a freshman or the other way around, everyone has bought in to the process and embodies the new slogan, #MadeForIt.
The slogan is all about the type of player second-year head coach Adia Barnes is bringing to UA: players who want to have an impact on growing the program.
“All our players believe in it and trust in what we are doing, that’s why I say they are ‘Made for it,’ Barnes said.
Barnes’ new players are senior Kat Wright and freshmen Sam Thomas, Sammy Fatkin, Marlee Kyles and Kiana Barkhoff. Plus recently added walk-ons freshman Ali Reese and junior Lindsey Malecha.
In addition, three transfers are sitting out this season: sophomores Aarion McDonald and Tee Tee Starkes and junior Dom McBryde.
It didn’t take long for all these players to bond, having trained together in the offseason.
“This summer was a great experience and so much different than the past,” Graham said. “We feel comfortable together. The team genuinely likes each other. We are really inclusive, even the jokes are done out of love.
“The freshman are so eager to learn. They don’t get down on themselves and are so positive. Sometimes they pick me up if I’m down, and that’s good to have.”
During the offseason Graham worked on a little bit of everything in her game, especially pull-up jumpers and taking these off the dribble. Last season she averaged 3.8 points per game and grabbed 95 rebounds and is looking to improve on these numbers.
She has also been working on another part of her game — being a leader, along with Wright and Bennett. As a sophomore she looked to those five seniors. Now it’s her time to step up for six teammates with no college or Pac-12 experience.
“We’re going to rely on Destiny a lot this year,” Barnes said. “She has a tremendous ability to be great. Once it clicks and she is confident she will surprise a lot of people … and herself.”
Another thing this team is made for is a different style of play. Expect to see more running on the court with these speedsters.
“Sammy is the fastest (next to McDonald),” Graham said. “I was surprised when she put up 35 in the shuttle test. I thought I was fast!”
This past weekend, the team went to White Stallion Ranch for a retreat — and a little more bonding. No cell phones, just teammates, horses and games.
“It was competitive, but not in a bad way,” Graham said. “We were yelling and rooting. And it’s reflective of how we will be on the court — all one team.”