Arizona’s hopes for a national championship push — and for Aari McDonald to become one of the most legendary sports figures to play at the university — became enhanced today with McDonald announcing she will return for her senior season in 2020-21.
McDonald, a fourth-year junior who was selected a second-team All-American by the Associated Press and the USBWA, will be a national player of the year favorite next season given her numerous accolades this season. She is a finalist this year for national player of the year honors such as the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, Wooden Award and Wade Trophy.
— Aari McDonald (@AariMcdonald) March 29, 2020
“After many talks with my family and fiancee, I have made the decision to return next season,” McDonald announced on Twitter. “I’m already counting down the days until I can get back on the court with my teammates, and I can’t wait to play one more season in front of the best fans in the country.
“Stay tuned because the best is yet to come.”
In an interview with Arizona coach Adia Barnes last week, she mentioned to me her strong belief that McDonald should return for personal reasons in addition to the Wildcats’ goal for a national title run.
“Look at all the accolades she’s getting now; it should only get better next year,” Barnes said. “We will be a good program regardless. We can be one of the best in the nation and the Pac-12.
“There’s also unlimited opportunities for Aari in terms of marketing. Sabrina Ionescu returned (to Oregon) and helped herself with that as a national player of the year. Aari is on that same path.”
Barnes also mentioned, “If she was going to get $10 million as a first-round pick I would encourage her to go, but the pay scale is a lot different in the WNBA. She can help herself on and off the court by coming back.”
McDonald’s return means Arizona’s roster will be loaded with standout guards and other key contributors.
Oklahoma transfer Shaina Pellington will be eligible after sitting out this season and Indiana transfer Bendu Yeaney, another guard, could be granted immediate eligibility next season after playing only six games this season with the Hoosiers after suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon injury at the end of the 2018-19 season.
Helena Pueyo, Tara Manumaleuga and Mara Mote will also be returning to the perimeter next season as sophomores. Bryce Nixon, who would have been a junior next season, has entered her name into the transfer portal.
McDonald, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, will be a returning All-Pac-12 selection along with junior forward Cate Reese. Senior foward Sam Thomas, a member of the Pac-12’s All-Defensive Team, is also returning.
The Wildcats are coming off a 24-7 overall record and 12-6 fourth-place performance in the Pac-12. The 24 wins was one shy of the school’s record.[table “57” not found /]
McDonald is also in position to break Barnes’ school scoring record of 2,237 points from 1994-98. McDonald ranks No. 6 in only two years at Arizona with 1,486 points. McDonald, who has scored in double figures in all 66 games of her Arizona career, is 751 points shy of Barnes’ record. That’s attainable in one season inasmuch as she broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record last year with 890 points.
“This past season was one I will truly cherish the rest of my life,” tweeted McDonald, who became engaged minutes after Arizona’s loss to Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament earlier this month. “There were so many memories I created with my teammates and I hope our fans enjoyed the ride as much as we did.
“We were devastated when we learned that all of our hard work would not be rewarded by representing Arizona in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years, knowing that we were going to make some magic happen in March.”
She included the hashtag #4Pops in tribute of her late grandfather, Dr. Roger N. Rodgers Sr.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.