Salvo Coppa is not your typical assistant basketball coach in the Pac-12.
Coppa is Italian, the son of one of Europe’s most successful women’s basketball coaches. He speaks English, Spanish and French.
And he’s married to Adia Barnes, the greatest player in Arizona Wildcats history and the UA’s first-year head coach.
The dynamic could stress some marriages, but Coppa says it’s been “great.” Coppa and Barnes have been married since 2012; they have a son together, Matteo.
“We’re working together and we’re working well,” he said. “It’s a professional relationship. We work like a regular head coach and assistant coach. We have a rule where we don’t talk about basketball at home so we don’t go 24 hours talking about basketball.”
And Coppa, 37, can certainly talk basketball.
He is the son of legendary coach Santino Coppa, who is known as “The European Legend of Women’s Basketball.”
The younger Coppa led Thailand’s Women’s National Team to a gold medal at the South-Eastern Asian Games in 2011, the Sicilia Women’s Basketball team to a gold medal at the Fiba Island Games in Portugal in 2010. He coached the Malta Women’s U18 team to a gold medal at the European Championship in 2007, and coached the Trogylos Priolo Junior team in Italy to five straight regional championships.
Salvo arrived at the UA after serving as an assistant coach at Montana State and a skill development coach with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
Santino, in Tucson to visit, said his son should bring a lot to the UA program.
“He’s young and has a very big motivation and enthusiasm,” he said. “I think he has a good opportunity to do well in this world of American basketball.”
The Star caught up with Salvo Coppa earlier this week, before the Wildcats (1-0) left for their East Coast road trip. They’ll play at George Mason on Friday night. Here’s what Coppa said:
How has your experience in Tucson been?
A: “I’m really enjoying working here at the University of Arizona. Tucson is a very nice city. The city is a beautiful college town and there is a lot of fans with no pro team. It brings a lot of people to the basketball gym to watch all of the games. The weather is great; it’s November, and we are wearing shorts and shirts. Everything is positive; it’s a great place.”
What did you learn from your father growing up?
A: “He won a Euro cup, two Italian championships, an Italian cup, and another European championship with the national team that he used to coach. What I learned from him is a lot of the fundamentals. He’s very focused on fundamentals. I’ve been learning from him since I was a student in high school, so I was very lucky. When Adia and I were engaged, she played for my dad towards the end of her career.”
How did you and Adia meet?
A: “We met in Italy, I used to coach professionally and she used to play for another team in Naples. We were always traveling and playing in different cities so we would talk a lot on the phone and the relationship slowly developed. When you play in Europe, you spend a lot of time on the road.”
What has surprised/impressed you about the team so far, and what do you think you bring to the program?
A: “The girls are working very hard. We have a lot to learn but we’re getting better. I think we still need to get better at controlling the timing of the game, the sense of when to run and when to run a more controlled half-court offense, but we’ve improved a lot. Basketball is basketball everywhere, but there are some experiences between European basketball and American basketball. I have to give to my experience that I had in Europe because that is where I learned a lot of the basics, I think it was very important. I hope I can bring my coaching experience and help with recruiting.”