It took some time for Amari Carter to decide she would play college basketball in the 2019-20 season.
UA’s latest graduate transfer had one year of eligibility remaining because she tore her ACL as a freshman at Penn State and missed the entire season. Playing an extra year wasn’t an easy decision.
Coquese Washington, Carter’s coach with the Nittany Lions, was let go in March with a 55.3 winning percentage after 12 seasons. But Penn State was just a combined 28-35 the last two seasons.
Carter knew that if she decided to transfer and play in 2019-20, everything would be new, from the system to the coaches and their tendencies.
She finally put her name in the transfer portal and was looking for a change of scenery and a faster pace of play. Carter narrowed her options down to three schools: Georgia, Virginia Tech and Arizona.
“All three were in different conferences, had different styles and amazing coaches (Joni Taylor at Georgia, Kenny Brooks at Virginia Tech, and UA’s Adia Barnes),” said Carter, a 5-foot-8-inch guard. “I ended up going with my gut. I think Arizona will be a great experience for me.
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“Coach Adia was honest from the jump on where she thought I’d fit and what she done in a short time that she’s been there — that’s the proof — and building off that. I believe in her and that’s what drew me in. When I first talked to Coach Adia I could hear her enthusiasm for the team and when I finally met her in Tucson you could see the enthusiasm about where you could go.”
That includes playing in tournament games, something Carter did not experience at Penn State.
It didn’t hurt that the Wildcats played in the nationally-televised WNIT championship game against Northwestern, Carter’s former Big Ten opponent.
“I did watch the championship game,” said Carter. “We played Northwestern and to see how different the style was. The flow of the offense, the ball not sticking too much, the misdirections, the speed in half-court as well as in transition excited me.
“I think I can play off the ball. I like to get up and down and play fast, and I like sharing the ball. It’s exciting and I wanted to be part of it.”
Last season Carter averaged 9.6 points, three rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. In her redshirt sophomore season she earned All-Big-Ten second-team honors when she led the conference in steals (2.63 per game) and averaged 14.4 points and 3.5 assists.
“She can shoot the 3 very well and is extremely athletic,” said Barnes, who was one of the first coaches to contact Carter. “She can create and is a good shooter. I heard she was good for our culture and a good teammate, and she has experience which is what we need from a transfer — all things I knew would make us better as a team.”
When Barnes looks for additions to her program, she looks for players who will add a different dimension to her team. Carter is no different.
“She gives us another shooter, another shooter who can create her own shot like Aari (McDonald) — and that is really, really valuable for us in the direction this program is going in. We need players who can do that,” said Barnes.
Barnes and Washington — Carter’s former coach — are friends whose WNBA playing careers overlapped. In doing her research, Barnes reached out to Washington, who was hands-on in Carter’s development over the last four years.
Barnes had a little extra help on this one.
Maddie Searle, her former graduate assistant — now the director of operations for coach Morgan Valley at Hartford — knew Carter from her time as a student manager at Penn State. Searle could speak to Carter’s character and what she observed off the court.
“I knew she was a good kid,” said Barnes.
What can fans expect from Carter?
“I like mid-range jumpers. I think it’s a forgotten part of the game,” she said. “I like to get people involved — with guards pushing the pace it gets things going for posts. If I need to be a scorer that night or be more aggressive, I’ll do that. I like to think I’m pretty fast. It may look a little different because I take longer strides.
“On defense I like to play the passing lanes — play like a free safety and get steals when I can.”
Jumping is one of Carter’s favorite things. She was in a sling at a young age and one of her friend’s mom called her “Bird” since it looked like a wing.
“Not many people call me that anymore,” Carter says. “I can count on one hand who does. That was a long time ago. But I still do like to jump and I want to jump higher. It’s fun when people don’t think you will and you jump a get a steal.”
• Helena Pueyo, a freshman guard in UA’s 2019 class, is spending her summer playing for the U18 Spanish national team. She helped Spain claim the Tournament of Azuqueca championship this week. In three games Pueyo averaged 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists. She was the leading scorer in each game. She shot 55% from the field and 60% from the 3. The tournament was leading up to the 2019 U18 European Championships in Bosnia from July 6-14.
• If Barnes was head of NCAA women’s basketball for a day, what would she change?
“I never thought about that. It’s a tough question. Oh, I would probably make equal pay for men and women,” she laughed. “No, it’s different because men’s programs bring in so much more (revenue). I’d probably have a program to develop young female coaches. I don’t know what it would be; it’s probably easier said than done. I’d probably work on something to make things more equal, whether that’s a different model. I don’t know what else I’d do that’s major, because I like our game. I think our game is evolving and getting more exciting and our athletes are getting better. So I wouldn’t change it a lot.”