Adia Barnes says recruiting comes down to relationships.
Not just the relationships she builds with players and their parents, mind you, but also the friendships she built throughout her professional playing career.
The international flavor of Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class, unveiled late last month, is a good indicator of Barnes’ familiarity with Europe. Barnes played for teams in Italy, Turkey, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. She met her husband, Salvo Coppa, while playing overseas. Coppa, now a UA assistant involved in recruiting, speaks five languages.
Faced recently with a language barrier, Coppa used Google translate.
As a result, the Wildcats were able to add Turkey’s Sevval Gul. Gul is one of four players who have signed a national letter of intent with the Wildcats for 2019, along with Icelandic forward Birna Benonysdottir, Latvian guard Mara Mote and Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga. Turkish guard Derin Erdogan verbally committed on Wednesday for the 2020 class.
The overseas commits are expected to join the top-rated freshman class in program history, which Barnes reeled in for 2018-19. This year’s Wildcats are 5-1 thanks in part to first-year players. They’ll take on San Diego State on the road Sunday afternoon.
“I am excited about the direction we are going,” Barnes said. “The people we are bringing in fit who we are and they are all made for it.”
Barnes’ 2019 class is two years in the making. She initially wanted to fill it with post players. That plan changed numerous times, as did the identities of the players Barnes was recruiting.
Last season, two Wildcats — Taryn Griffey and Eugenie Simonet-Keller — medically retired. Already this season, two post players — Kiana Barkhoff and Shalyse Smith — have transferred.
Barnes calls it “a prime example of how this generation of basketball players is different.”
“At Oregon, Kelly Graves has built a top-level program,” Barnes said. “It’s very successful, going deep in the tournament two consecutive years. Four kids transferred this year. It happens everywhere. Well, everywhere but Stanford. You go to Stanford for the degree.”
The first steps in recruiting are identifying your team’s needs and evaluating available prospects. Barnes leaves the heavy lifting —compiling of the huge list — to assistant coach and recruiting coordinator April Phillips.
Arizona’s staff recruits multiple classes at a time. Multiple continents, too. That’s where those relationships help.
“Relationships are key in Europe, because there were 30 of us coaches at the (FIBA) Championships and if you don’t have a relationship before, you are out,” Barnes said.
Mote, a 5-foot-11-inch guard from Latvia, was the first to give Barnes a verbal commitment. Mote’s mentor was a friend of Barnes.
“Mara was easy; she speaks perfect English,” Barnes said. “We talked and I saw six games. She is a smart player, athletic and has good endurance. I liked what she was about; a good fit. It was a no-brainer. She’s a good player.”
Benonysdottir, a 6-foot-2-inch forward from Iceland, had two connections to Arizona. One was Coppa’s father, a longtime European coach. The other was Jenny Boucek, a Dallas Mavericks assistant and a friend of Barnes.
“This was random connections,” Barnes said. “I saw her twice. She is a good player, a stretch-four (position) and she can shoot the 3. She is a great kid and is from a good family. And she speaks English.”
Barnes found Manumaleuga through another friend. Manumaleuga is the cousin of former Arizona and NFL standout Brandon Manumaleuna.
“We needed a shooter, a specialist,” Barnes said. “She has good size and athleticism and is a good fit.”
When it came to landing Gul, Arizona got an assist from Kelsey Plum, the former Washington standout who Barnes recruited and coached with the Huskies. Gul and Plum both play for Ferenhbace, a basketball club in Turkey.
“(Gul) saw Kelsey every day and would ask her what it’s like playing in college,” Barnes said. “Connections are key for us.”
So is communication. Coppa joked that he won’t be adding Turkish to his repertoire.
“I think (Gul) speaks better English than my three years studying Turkish,” Coppa joked.
Barnes made all the scholarship offers either in person or on FaceTime. She knows that, for many of the players she recruits, the offer can be life changing. It was for Barnes when she committed to the UA and former coach Joan Bonvicini more than 20 years ago.
“It means a lot when I offer a girl a scholarship,” Barnes said. “It says a lot about her — high character, the total-package kid. It’s special. They fit in our culture and they are all-in. I’m not taking anyone who isn’t. I’ve worked hard to create an incredible culture these past few years. For me, it’s more about who you are as a person than as a player. It’s even more special to get an offer at Arizona because we are recruiting against the best teams. We are going head-to-head with Oregon on players. That says a lot about the work our staff puts in.”
Barnes understands that a class full of international players might be a cause for concern. She isn’t worried.
“There are risks with overseas players, and you have to factor that in. However, we lost out on some good players in the United States and I would rather get a good player from overseas,” she said. “If I can’t get a top-10 player here, why pass on kids from overseas? If I really like a player, I’m not going to pass on them. They could be from Mars.
“These are great players who are used to practicing and are great students, which is in line with what we have. A good example is Lucia (Alonso), who is one of our best students on the team.
“Now it’s about getting players and getting better. Winning is a process, if you do it right. Right now I have a plan. It is to win.”