Adia Barnes was introduced as the new women’s head basketball coach at University of Arizona on April 8. It took her just 12 days to announce she had assembled a full coaching staff.
She and her three assistants hit the recruiting trail and, on June 23, had landed the first signee of the Barnes era – and it was a nice catch for being in the hunt for just two months.
Bria Rice is ranked by ESPN.com as the 30th best guard in the country. During her senior year at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash., she averaged 8.8 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.4 steals per game to lead the Titans to a 25-3 record.
“I chose Arizona because coach Barnes has all the pieces to the puzzle and has hired a great coaching staff,” she said in explaining her decision to play in Tucson. “I have a lot of faith in the coaching staff and I’m really excited to get started.”
That coaching staff includes three assistants that bring a wealth of experience to the Wildcat program. It could easily be the deepest coaching bench in the Pac-12.
Sunny Smallwood, who Barnes tapped as the associate head coach, has more than 25 years coaching experience at the Division I level. She was hired away from Boise State, where she spent the last two seasons as associate head coach for the Broncos. Prior to that, she was on staff at Nebraska for nine seasons, the last six as associate head coach. She also had stops at Washington; Washington State; and California, where she was also associate head coach.
Kelly Rae Finley has been a Division I coach for eight seasons, the last four at Colorado, serving as the program’ s recruiting coordinator. The Buffaloes pulled in a Top 25 recruiting class last season.
Barnes called Finley “one of the premier recruiters in the country” and said she would be a “great fit” with this team.
And Salvo Coppa brings the international flavor to the staff after 13 years coaching experience in Europe where he won three FIBA Gold Medals with three different teams. Barnes says “there is not a better international recruiter than him. He’s going to really hit Europe.”
In addition to head-coaching experience, Barnes hired him for his proven track record in skill development. “He’s very good at teaching fundamentals of the game,” she points out. “The players will gravitate to him because they will see he makes them better.”
The new head honcho takes over a program that hasn’t won more than four games in conference play in any of the last four years. Her predecessor, Niya Butts, won 20 games in her third season as head coach, but that is the only winning record she posted in eight seasons.
Barnes has a deep-rooted reason for wanting this program turned around. She played her college ball at Arizona, where she was a three-time All-Conference selection, Pac-10 Player of the Year, and left the program as the leading scorer in program history. After that, she played 12 seasons in the WNBA.
She has never been a head coach, although she spent five seasons at University of Washington as an assistant.
But, based on her moves so far, that transition to the end of the bench isn’t going to be too difficult.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)