“I would like to extend you an offer to play basketball at the University of Arizona.”
When Tara Manumaleuga heard those words from Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes, she didn’t hesitate. She said yes right away.
And then she made her way to Tucson as soon as possible.
The Australian-born guard enrolled at the UA earlier this month after finishing high school in December. She will watch her teammates from the bench — the plan is to redshirt — as the Wildcats host UCLA on Sunday afternoon.
“Adia was telling me where this program was going. … I wanted to be part of something special,” Manumaleuga said. “You can already tell where this program is going. I wanted to be part of something that is big.
“As soon as I came on my visit I felt like I was meant to be here. I don’t know how to explain it, the feeling I got. The girls were a great fit for me. They are really nice, really cool. The university is great and to be able to play in the Pac-12 is really an honor.”
Manumaleuga was one of her country’s top young players; she began playing internationally as a 12-year-old. She played for QLD South in both the U16 and U17 Australia Junior Basketball Championships. A year later, she averaged 12 points for New Zealand’s U17 team at the FIBA World Cup. (Manumaleuga was born in Sydney and raised in Queensland, but says she’s half Kiwi).
Manumaleuga initially considered scholarship offers from Xavier, Long Beach State, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Buffalo. She took official visits and was surprised when some schools arranged for other Australians to join her for meals.
Manumaleuga’s college plans solidified in August, when Barnes offered her a scholarship. The coach texted Manumaleuga requesting to talk via FaceTime. Manumaleuga’s mom, Karen, picked her up from school and they called Barnes in Tucson.
The initial celebration was subdued, while there were people around the Manumaleugas at the time Barnes extended the offer. They didn’t hold their excitement in for long.
“When we got home we were screaming and told the family — uncles and aunties,” Manumaleuga said. “It was crazy; it still is crazy.”
Manumaleuga had some help throughout the recruiting process. Her older brother, Jalen, played basketball at Jackson State and the University of Indianapolis. And Manumaleuga’s second cousin is former Wildcat and NFL tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. While Barndon didn’t push Tara to Arizona, he did tell her that her style of play and her build would be well-suited for the Pac-12.
Manumaleuga didn’t waste any time. She verbally committed to the UA, signed a national letter of intent, and then finished high school a semester early and moved to Tucson.
Barnes knew the advantage that international players can bring. She’s seen it up close with junior guard Lucia Alonso of Spain, who has been in the Wildcats’ starting rotation since her freshman season.
Manumaleuga is “a great kid. She has great character,” Barnes said. “She works. She likes to shoot extra, which I like. That’s contagious to bring other players along. She’s athletic, she has some bounce in her step. She can shoot it from deep range. She has good size. She can run plays.”
For now, Manumaleuga is getting stronger in the weight room, getting repetitions, learning a new style of play and getting to know her teammates.
“She brings a ton of energy,” teammate Sam Thomas said. “She’s on the practice team. She’s making us better every day. We love hearing her accent in practice when she talks on defense, it’s just a great time.”
- Alonso injured her ankle four minutes into the Oregon game Jan. 20, and was limited to just over a minute in Friday’s win against USC. Alonso is averaging 32.9 minutes per game in her career.
“It’s tough to put her in a game when people are going to be driving it at her,” Barnes said. “I was going to use her up to seven minutes, but I didn’t want to risk using her when we need her against UCLA. We need her next week. She’s feeling good. But just coming back and coming into a game — boom — where you have to move laterally, I didn’t think that was worth it.”