Adia Barnes’ first season as Arizona’s women’s basketball coach was more of the same: a 5-13 Pac-12 record that fit uncomfortably with the UA’s 14-76 conference record of the previous five seasons.
And then everything changed.
In fewer than 100 days since Arizona’s final game, Barnes fought back. The UA coaching staff added six players to the UA roster, a six-woman group unprecedented in reputation, profile and potential in the program.
It was Sean Miller-esque.
Italy’s top inside prospect, Valeria Trucco, chose Arizona over Cal. Florida Atlantic junior Kat Wright, who once made 11 3-pointers in a game, joined the list. Then came the nation’s No. 12 overall prospect, Cate Reese of Texas. Iowa State’s Tee Tee Starks declared she would play her final two seasons at Arizona, and Purdue’s Dominique McBryde followed. And last week, Aarion McDonald — Washington’s leading returning scorer — announced that she was leaving for the UA.
In some ways, this isn’t totally unexpected. Barnes established a strong recruiting network in her years working for a Final Four program at Washington. Her engaging, get-it-done personality is contagious.
Her husband, Salvo Coppa, who has coached in Europe, the WNBA and Division I basketball, is part of one of Italy’s most well-known basketball families. He has worked his European connections.
But few, if any, could’ve expected Arizona to produce so well so soon. It might take until the 2019-20 season for Barnes to get Arizona back in NCAA Tournament contention, but she has caught the attention of the Pac-12.
When Joan Bonvicini coached Arizona to seven NCAA Tournaments from 1995-2004, she did so with much less recruiting notoriety. Barnes, her top player, was essentially a 2-star recruit from San Diego. Dominating center Shawntinice Polk had to delay her enrollment at Arizona until her academic status was approved by UA president Peter Likins. Bonvicini’s other star-level player, guard Dee Dee Wheeler of Chicago, was considered too short by many recruiters, and a better softball prospect by others.
Barnes has taken it a step further.
In a blowtorch-like month of high temperatures in Tucson, Barnes has cranked up the thermometer even more.