Adia Barnes knows that life is about more than basketball.
As a player under Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini, Barnes learned about the value of being part of the community and giving.
As a professional, she was part of a contingent of WNBA and NBA players who went to Africa to educate and share the joy of basketball. Barnes was also the first WNBA player to start her own charitable foundation.
Now, as Arizona’s coach, Barnes helps her players put in hundreds of hours each year in the community. She developed a Girl Power Day with Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, and uses her wildly popular social media platform to speak out on women’s issues.
Now, Barnes is taking it a step further. She is a part of Nike’s Athlete Think Tank alongside women in different stages of their careers.
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Barnes spent two days earlier this week at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, with golfer Michelle Wie, tennis legend Serena Williams, Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim, track star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, WNBA standout A’ja Wilson, ballerina Michaela DePrince and Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, among others.
“I’m ready to change the world. I was inspired,” Barnes said. “…It was one of most amazing experiences of my life.”
Barnes missed Tuesday’s practice, arriving back in Tucson after midnight.
“I got back just, like, glowing, because it was so powerful,” Barnes said. “I feel like as a coach, I’m never going to win enough games — hopefully I’ll win as many championships as (UConn’s) Geno (Auriemma). Yeah, I’m here to win, for sure. I want to win. I want to win a championship. That’s why I coach. But I want to do more than basketball. I feel like I’m here for a purpose and I feel like I can impact in so many other ways. I want to leave an imprint when I leave this game and how I impacted young women. I really have a lot of visions on that and it helped to get a lot of direction on that from Nike.”
Women in the Athlete Think Tank shared stories about their journeys and their struggles. Fraser-Pryce came back to win a gold medal at the World Championships after having a baby. Kim is a trailblazer for Asian-American snowboarder. Everyone counted Wilson out.
Doctors in Russia didn’t think McFadden would live after being born with spina bifida and being left in an orphanage. DePrince found a photo of a ballerina while in her orphanage, sparking a curiosity that led her to pursue dance.
Nike is helping the women in the Athlete Think Tank bring their purpose to life. The women, in exchange, are helping Nike change some of its products. Nike has developed new bras that are more intuitive for women; Barnes talked Wednesday about shoes that would tie themselves for women who can’t bend over when holding a baby or while pregnant.
As for Barnes’ purpose? The coach says she’s focused on helping the Tucson community. Barnes’ No. 18-ranked Wildcats (2-0) host Loyola Marymount on Friday.
“How can I make it better? We have a girl power day — it’s the only thing for girls. How can I make that bigger?” Barnes said. “Now, with Nike and other things, it’s a bigger platform; it will reach more people. What can I do that can leave an impact here in Tucson to say, ‘Wow! She really helped change … give young women opportunities or helped moms have access to things.’ I think there are other things are bigger. That’s my inspiration.”
Barnes said she was devastated after the Wildcats lost the 2021 championship game to Stanford. The loss lingered for months, she said, in part because she felt the pressure to deliver for so many people.
“I was sad that I let all these groups down,” Barnes said. “I felt like I was wearing this hat of like a mom — no moms do it. I’m doing this stuff with the baby. Then like as a black female. (South Carolina coach) Dawn (Staley) and I were the first ones that were there together (in the Final Four) — it’s rare. How am I going to use that platform to help other women? And then the next thing was as a former WNBA player. ... I felt like I let all these groups down. … I was like, ‘I couldn’t do it.’ I don’t know why I felt the pressure that and I didn’t even know a lot of that till I was in the Final Four. And I was like, jeez, pressure, pressure. But I felt bad about not fulfilling that for all these people.”
Change coming Barnes has seen the push for equal pay in soccer and monitors the increasing popularity of both women’s soccer and women’s basketball.
She says it’s time to change a system that she calls flawed.
Consider: The No. 68 team in the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament received more money than the UA women did — and the Wildcats made the national championship game.
“I think that’s insane. And I think that’s not right,” Barnes said. “…I feel like if it’s not talked about now, it’s just going to get forgotten. I think there’s momentum to talk about it. There are just a lot of changes that need to be made. Nothing is really equitable. And we can all say it is, but it’s not even close. … I think it’s changing.
“It wasn’t like this 15 years ago. I think that women are no longer accepting scraps. I think before it’s just ‘be grateful for what you have.’ And we’ll take that because we didn’t have anything before. I think now like, ‘OK, we deserve this. We’re not just going to take this because it’s leftover. We deserve our seat at the table. We don’t have to sit on that side table.’”
Senior forward Cate Reese has been named to the Wooden Award preseason Top 50 list. The Wooden Award is given to the player of the year. UA signees Breya Cunningham and Jada Williams are on the Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Girls Trophy watch list. The award is given by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the top player in the country.
Barnes’ radio show starts Tuesday. The 5:30 p.m. show airs live on 1400-AM from Flora’s Market Run. Derrick Palmer is back as the host.