It’s been 5½ years since Niya Butts strolled into McKale Center for her introductory press conference.
When she was hired, Butts was 30, the youngest coach in the then-Pac-10, and her energy was palpable. On the first day, and every day since, she’s been bouncing off the walls.
Butts walked into the Lohse Room at McKale Center for the team’s annual media day two weeks ago, and went to work. She walked around the room, shaking the hand of every member of the media.
Soon, she snared a local TV station’s microphone and played broadcaster, interviewing some of her players.
If you can’t tell, she’s excited for the 2013-14 season.
“I’m on fire for the season right now,” Butts said. “I can’t wait. I always get anxious. In my mind we have to go over a lot of things, but at the same time I’m ready to get on the floor.”
She’s just as happy now as she was nearly when Jim Livengood introduced her as the Wildcats’ eighth women’s basketball coach, replacing John Bonvicini, the winningest UA women’s coach in program history.
Butt’s liveliness persists.
It’s what gets recruits to the Old Pueblo, and coaches on to her staff.
“You know what,” said assistant coach Calamity McEntire, “she has amazing energy and does a great job of showing you what passion she has for this program. It wasn’t a hard decision to work for Coach Butts.”
Added freshman forward Breanna Workman, “When I first met her, I could just see it in her eyes, her passion for the game. I want to be in a program that wants to win.”
The wins just haven’t manifested yet for the Wildcats.
Under Butts, the Wildcats have yet to make the NCAA tournament. They’ve made the postseason just once, a 2011 appearance in the WNIT.
In 2011-12, the Wildcats started 11-1, then lost 16 of their last 20 games. Last year, it was more of the same — a 9-3 start followed by a 3-15 finish.
Davellyn Whyte — a four-time All-Pac-12 selection, Arizona’s second all-time leading scorer and a WNBA draft pick — was there for both. Now, she’s gone. The WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars drafted her 16th overall in the spring.
“Obviously, when you lose someone who could score as well as she could score and do some different things, it’s going to be challenging,” Butts said, “but we feel pretty good about the cast we have here.”
The Wildcats return six of their top eight scorers from last year, though Alli Gloyd is out for the season with a torn right ACL.
Candice Warthen, a speedy junior guard, is back after missing all of last season with a nearly identical injury.
The last time she was healthy, Warthen was the team’s second-leading scorer with 11.7 points per game.
“I don’t think anybody will be able to do what Davellyn did, but everybody has to put forth effort and bring everything she brought,” Warthen said. “I didn’t think everybody that beat us was more talented last year. I just felt like when we were down, we never fought back. We just got down and never finished the game, we always stuck with them, but never finished.”
This would be Warthen’s senior year if not for the injury, but it is Erica Barnes’. Kama Griffitts and Carissa Crutchfield re all starters too, and seniors, but none have been with the UA for four years like Barnes and Warthen.
“Erica is a four-year senior,” Butts said, “We want to go out and have the seniors go out on top. That’s what our goal is, that’s what our drive is and so far we’ve worked toward that.”
Two years ago, Butts signed a three-year contract extension through June 2016. Barnes would like to see to it that her coach makes it there.
“She deserves everything and hopefully this is the year that we give it to her,” Barnes said. “I just want her to really be happy. If she’s happy, and we’re winning, it’s a win-win.”