Adia Barnes has been laying down some big foundation blocks for the women’s basketball program she is trying to re-build at the University of Arizona.
Barnes was hired 14 months ago to take her turn at trying to revive a moribund program that had won just 14 conference games in the previous five years. Her predecessor, Niya Butts, had posted just one winning season in her seven-year attempt to revive the program.
Barnes’ inaugural season resulted in a 5-13 record in the rugged Pac-12 Conference that earned the Wildcats a four-way tie for last place.
Last season was her period of adjustment. The 2017-18 season will require considerably more improvement.
And so it’s been a busy off-season so far for the former standout player at Arizona, who finished her collegiate career with the all-time UofA scoring record before spending 12 years in the WNBA.
In just the last six weeks, Barnes has beefed up her coaching staff, added some immediate seasoning with a couple of transfers, and capped it off this past week by snagging a 5-star recruit.
Her first move was to hire someone she knew well and trusted to join her coaching staff. Morgan Valley was on staff at University of Washington with Barnes during the 2015-16 season and brings an impressive collegiate resume to Tucson.
“Morgan is one I wanted from Day One and I think this is the best hire in the country.” she said after the announcement of the hire in late April. “She comes from a championship pedigree, having won three national championships at UConn, while playing in four Final Fours. Morgan’s addition not only gives us an incredible basketball mind, but a specialist in player development and scouting, and a coach who knows how to build a championship culture.”
Valley spent two seasons on the Washington coaching bench before head coach Mike Neighbors left to take the top job at University of Arkansas, thus freeing her up to look elsewhere for her next gig.
Then, three weeks ago, Barnes brought in a couple of transfers to add experience and depth. Kat Wright is a 6’0″ forward who played three years at Florida Atlantic and Tee Tee Starks got her playing time at Iowa State.
Wright will bring immediate help since she will be eligible to play this season. She sat out last year after a season-ending injury that required taking a medical redshirt. But her junior year she started 30 games and was second-leading scorer with 11.7 points a game and third in rebounding. She was a major contributor from behind the arc, shooting 40 percent from three-point range and putting up 11 three-pointers in one game, which is second-most in NCAA history.
Starks, too, has already logged a medical redshirt season, but during her freshman year, which limited her to nine games. Last year she played in all 31 games, starting 14 of those at her guard position, but will have to sit out a year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
But the crown jewel of Barnes’ recruiting efforts has to be Cate Reese, a 6’2″ forward that is reportedly the highest-ranked recruit to commit to the Arizona program. One recruiting service had her ranked as the No. 3 forward in her class and the No. 12 recruit overall.
The Texas native averaged 22.3 points and 13.2 rebounds as a senior at Cypress Woods High School. She announced her decision to select Arizona from among a growing list of suitors Sunday on twitter.
Since Arizona graduated five seniors from last season, Barnes has a good opportunity to use recruiting to build a new line-up going forward.
A five-star recruit is a great start.