On Thursday, Adia Barnes could finally talk. And smile. And breathe.
The Arizona Wildcats unveiled the most accomplished recruiting class in school history, the result of nearly two years of work for Barnes, the Wildcats’ second-year coach.
The five-person class — Cate Reese, Bryce Nixon, Shalyse Smith, Valeria Trucco and Semaj Smith — is ranked No. 4 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 by ProspectsNation.com. Reese, Semaj Smith and Trucco are ranked as five-star prospects, while Nixon and Shalyse Smith are four-star players.
Speaking publicly about her recruits for the first time, Barnes said the quality of the class “surprised me.”
“We went after top kids and we were in the mix with the Stanfords and Tennessees,” said Barnes, whose team will open the 2017-18 season Friday with a noon game against Iona. “An important AAU coach said to me a couple of years ago that we wouldn’t be in the mix, and now we are.”
Barnes focused on post players for 2018, in part because this year’s roster is relatively small.
She found a star prospect in Shalyse Smith, the 2018 class’ first verbal commitment. Smith is “versatile, tenacious and a fighter,” Barnes said. “She is a go-to-war with, tough kid.”
ESPN ranks Shalyse Smith as the No. 7 forward in the country. Last year, the Tacoma, Washington product averaged 15.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
Reese, from Cypress, Texas, is the UA’s highest-rated prospect. ESPN lists her at No. 4 in the post and No. 14 in the country. The 6-foot-3-inch inch forward averaged 22.3 points and 13.2 rebounds per game last season. She is the sister of Ali Reese, a walk-on this season.
“Cate is a fierce competitor,” Barnes said. “She’ll bring it for 40-45 minutes. She’s diving for ball and doesn’t back down. She has that blue-collar ethic we like.”
The 6-4 Trucco hails from Italy and has been a member of the U16, U17 and U18 Italian National Teams. Barnes calls Trucco a “stretch defender and a deadly 3-pointer shooter. She will play against the 5s in this league.”
The other Smith, Semaj, “alters shots inside,” Barnes said. The Long Beach, California, product is rated the No. 9 post player and No. 52 overall prospect in the nation. The 6-5 Smith averaged 15.9 points and 15.2 rebounds last season.
Nixon is the only guard in the Wildcats’ class. The Phoenix Arcadia High School product is ranked the No. 71 prospect in the country. She average 20 points and five assists per game as a junior.
“Getting a great player in-state means a lot,” said Barnes. “She is 5-10 and brings length.”