Sometimes, it pays to be the first.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes offered Madison Conner her first Division I basketball scholarship in September of 2017.
Two and a half years later, Conner returned the favor — giving Barnes her first verbal commitment for the Class of 2021. The Gilbert Perry High School guard chose the Wildcats on Monday over offers from Maryland, Indiana, Cal, Pitt and Duke.
Conner said it was the “perfect” move for her.
“Arizona had everything I wanted,” she said. “It’s in my backyard and it’s unbeatable.”
The 5-foot-11-inch Conner averaged 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a junior, making The Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona team. Prospects Nation ranks her as the 56th-best player in the country for the Class of 2021, while ESPN lists her as a four-star recruit and the nation’s 25th-best guard.
Conner was a freshman when the UA offered her a full ride. A quick connection and relationship with Barnes is why she said it was “awesome to get her first offer from Coach Adia.”
Over the next two-plus years, Conner watched closely as the vision that Barnes shared with her recruits came to fruition. With Barnes in charge, Arizona landed top recruits Cate Reese and Semaj Smith and a transfer class that included Aari McDonald, Dominique McBryde and Tee Tee Starks.
Then, the Wildcats started winning. Arizona captured the 2019 WNIT championship, and was on the brink of making and hosting this year’s NCAA Tournament when the season was canceled.
Conner noticed other changes on her trips to watch games at McKale Center.
“It’s awesome — seeing the fanbase and how Coach Adia has changed the culture,” she said. “It’s so cool when 10,000 people are cheering for you. It’s a hard atmosphere for others to play in. How far they’ve come shows Coach Adia’s work ethic and dedication — as well as the players. They are exactly the type of people I want to be around.
“When I went into the locker room, I got a good vibe from the players. They are all tight and super-close — exactly what I am looking for. My family is huge, but it felt like it was my home away from home.”
Conner is the second of four girls. Her older sister, Lauryn, is a freshman at Arizona State. Lauryn Conner has informed Madison and her family that she’ll attend her games, but she won’t wear a UA shirt.
Madison Conner describes herself on the court as a versatile player who is in many ways position-less. She has a mid-range jumper and attacks the basket. Conner said she’s looking forward to running the pick-and-roll with Reese, who she calls an “awesome player.” Arizona’s standout forward will be a senior during Conner’s freshman season.
Conner said her conversations with Barnes about basketball — and everything else — made a difference.
“We had a ton of conversations,” Conner said. “She’s a great person. She showed me that I’m not just another number on a jersey. The majority of the time we talked about what I’m doing and school. It’s way beyond basketball for Coach Adia.”
Conner, like Barnes, started playing basketball with the boys in the neighborhood. When she was in sixth grade she started playing club for a coach who calls himself “Showtime.” They still train together.
Barnes has been where Conner eventually wants to go — the WNBA. First, Conner — like Barnes — will don the red and blue at Arizona.
“They are on the come-up: A great program, the kids are great — exactly what I wanted,” Conner said. “Coach Adia has a ton of experience and she knows what it takes.
“I’m never satisfied. I’ll work to do great things and win a title (at Arizona). I definitely think we can do that.”