The ZOOM press conference lasted about 45 minutes with five local reporters, including myself, asking Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes a series of questions. The conference could have lasted longer than an hour with the affable Barnes, but she still provided many answers from coping with COVID-19 to the dynamic of incoming high-level recruit Lauren Ware juggling volleyball and basketball.
The other reporters who took part were P.J. Brown of The Arizona Daily Star, David Kelly of Channel 4, and Ryan Kelapire and Kim Doss of AZ Desert Swarm.
Aside from COVID-19 and Ware, the topics Barnes addressed included other incoming recruits, personnel matters (including incoming transfers), scheduling, former fellow Arizona standout Dee-Dee Wheeler‘s hire as TUSD athletic director and the cancellation of her summer basketball camp that will affect the development of 100 or more kids locally.
On Virginia Tech graduate transfer Trinity Baptiste, a power forward, on a question from Kelapire:
Barnes admitted that at first Baptiste “basically broke up with me” after Barnes first contacted her about transferring to Arizona and they had a long, engaging conversation. Baptiste mentioned in a text the next day to Barnes that she wanted to stay close to home.
“And then she called me back and then I was like, ‘Oh, did you change your mind?'” Barnes said. “We just started talking. She started watching more film and just talking about what we’re doing here. She was really excited. So that’s never happened to me.
“So then she decided to sign and come and I’m really, really excited about her because (graduating senior) Dominique (McBryde) was very important to us. We would not win without Dominique. So adding (Baptiste), it just kind of filled a void, that I felt like we really needed to get to the next level. So that’s her.”
Baptiste, who Barnes says is a “different kind of kid” because of her tenacity and strong desire to play professionally, was selected the Sixth Player of the Year in the ACC last season. She appeared in all 34 games with 19 starts. She averaged 10.4 points and 7.6 rebounds on the season.
On the philosophy of recruiting graduate transfers such as Baptiste from a question by Kelly:
“I think that’s going to be a normal trend because you can get a lot better fast,” Barnes said. “When you think about it, we’re a preseason No. 7, that was before that signing (of Baptiste). I think with her, we could have even bumped up a little bit.
“So, in a perfect world, you don’t want to do that. But they’re really attractive because a lot of times they bring you leadership, you know what they’ve done, they have experience, and they add value.but I wouldn’t take one that wasn’t an impact player.”
On the changing mindset of commitments from recruits because COVID-19 has forced closures of schools, such as Arizona, as asked by Doss:
Class of 2021 recruit Madison Conner of Gilbert Perry committed to Barnes’ program last week instead of in the fall because of the uncertainty of summer AAU basketball tournaments taking place. Per NCAA rules, Barnes can not comment about Conner publicly until Conner signs.
“What we’re seeing now, with most of the kids on the board, if you look at all the top 50 kids, like about 15 have committed in the last couple weeks,” Barnes said. “All of these kids pretty much said they were (committing) in the fall, because most haven’t had a chance to go on campuses. But COVID has changed that because now I think people are scared to go further away from home.
“And it’s really interesting because it’s made us have to move up our timeline, because we thought they’re gonna visit in the fall and make a decision. (Usually) 90 percent of these kids don’t make decisions now because they would normally be playing July basketball and they want to go to schools and see the campus (after). But now, a ton of decisions are being made.”
Barnes believes that will lead to more transfers because decisions might be hastily made now. She said “tons of kids” are in the transfer portal now for eligibility in 2021-22.
That led to my question about roster size — Arizona is one off the scholarship limit with 14 players — and if the Wildcats might add another player, possibly a transfer who will not be eligible to play this year:
Indiana transfer Bendu Yeaney will possibly be eligible in 2020-21 after playing in only six games last season coming off an Achilles’ tendon tear at the end of the 2018-19 season. The NCAA has not yet determined her eligibility. Barnes mentioned that another transfer who has to sit out next season, potentially with Yeaney, might be added to the program.
“I think if it’s a very, very good player, I would possibly take another (transfer),” Barnes said. “It would probably not be a fifth-year player because most of the fifth-years have already entered the portal, but a transfer that would sit out this year because we’re losing Aari (McDonald) and we’re losing Sam (Thomas) — which is big — so a transfer that can start as a junior would give us more experience. It would have to be a need, and it would probably be one of those positions.”
Brown touched on Barnes’ summer camps shut down because of COVID-19 and Barnes mentioned she was in favor of canceling them for safety reasons:
Barnes mentioned the camp could possibly be held in August but also said, “I don’t know if it’s the best thing to have 100 little kids in one place right after all this. I didn’t think it was a safe thing right now. I was too scared to be the one to make that call. I just think it’s better to cancel but it just affects a lot of people.”
Barnes said the cancellation mostly affects staff members consisting of local coaches who will be without the opportunity to make more income, but more importantly, the young participants.
“It really hurts the community because you have 100 little girls coming that are so excited about basketball, and we even have some boys sometimes and I think it hurts in that sense because (they could be) future Cats and the excitement or maybe they start to play basketball because of that camp. I get tons of e-mails from parents. So I think it hurts in that sense.”
Brown asked Barnes about the possibility of the seasons of the college sports shifting because of COVID-19 and how that might affect women’s basketball:
“I think football can be pushed back a little bit because of how much they have to train,” Barnes said. “I think some of the fall sports can be affected a little bit, but I don’t think it’s going to affect basketball. I think that they’re probably just gonna have to take temperatures or something, but no one’s even talking about that, because there’s so much stuff on the board and so many scenarios, but I do think in May, some athletes may be training outside.”
Barnes said she was recently tested for the antibody, without results as of yet, and she believes more testing will have to take place ‘”because otherwise there’s no end.”
She added that by November, with more testing, the team should be able to play in McKale Center with fans. Season-ticket sales remain robust despite the pandemic, she said. “It’s not affecting our sales; that’s the crazy thing,” she said. “I was worried. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, we were second in attendance (in the Pac-12) last year,’ but our tickets are selling like crazy. We have like 700 as of last week — 700 new accounts. So people are still buying our tickets. I think people are pretty optimistic again.”
A question came up about Ware, a 6-foot-5 post player in basketball and middle blocker in volleyball, and her availability because of the possibility of volleyball pushed into the winter, conflicting with basketball. Barnes mentioned that she does not believe that will happen and she is preparing for Ware to join the Wildcats when the Pac-12 season starts after Christmas break.
Barnes then answered my question about Wheeler becoming the TUSD athletic director, which I have already formulated into a story:
Adia Barnes with strong, meaningful praise today for fellow former UA standout Dee-Dee Wheeler, hired by TUSD on Tuesday to be Director of Interscholastics. Barnes believes Wheeler can be force Tucson needs to ramp up youth hoops development. The story: https://t.co/P2vbtCPLAg
Brown asked about the higher level of expectations placed on Barnes’ program because of the lofty ratings nationally of the team going into the 2020-21 season:
“I’m curious to see how we’re going to react,” she said. “I would have been a lot more comfortable if we played the (NCAA) tournament and went deep, and had some of that experience, because I think that would make things easier for this year because now we’re going to be in uncharted territory again when we make the tournament this year.
“That’s the part I don’t love. What I love is that it shows how our program has evolved. It’s fun. I think it’s a lot harder though, versus being the one that hunts after people than being the hunted. I think it’s totally different. So it’s my job to bring in people to help us elevate those expectations and just have the standards a lot higher.”
Barnes added that McDonald and Thomas, the seniors next season, are hungry and they will set expectations high for teammates with their work ethic. She also said with the abundance of talent on the team, the practices will be very intense.
“We’re gonna get after it. We just have to elevate our game. We’re gonna have a better non-conference (schedule). The expectations are higher, the stakes are higher. So I’m curious to see how we’re going to respond because we’ve never done it (play with high expectations). I’ve done it as a player, but they’ve never done that. So I have to just be a leader and show them how to do it.”
I asked Barnes about the non-conference schedule, about its development, with Texas already slated to play at McKale Center with a home-and-home arrangement after the Wildcats routed the Longhorns last season in Austin:
Barnes mentioned the non-conference schedule is still being developed with the addition of one team remaining. The improvement of the program has made it more difficult for Barnes to schedule schools, especially for games at McKale Center.
“We literally have had three games we had to fill for like over eight months,” Barnes said. “Finally, we got with some help with the AD in different situations, the games or else we still wouldn’t have had them. And I didn’t even say we were offering to pay for teams. People don’t want to come to McKale to play.”
Barnes said she has tried many teams, including most in California, but she still is trying to round out the schedule. She indicated she may wait to see if teams cancel non-conference matchups because of travel restrictions and go after a school at that time.
Guaranteed games with highly-ranked teams that cost upwards to $200,000 are hard to arrange because the “Pac-12 notoriously doesn’t have $200,000 to spend on guarantees, like the SEC or certain schools,” she said.
“We’ve never done that, and we’ve never had to, so our budget is a lot lower for guaranteed (games),” Barnes said. “Now the reality is changing. We’re having to pay people to come in here and play because they don’t want to come here, which is a good problem to have, right? But it is a problem. It takes a lot of work. That’s why I’m doing scheduling, because it’s hard.”
Kelapire remarked about Sean Miller’s recent recruiting effort that has featured players from Turkey, Estonia and France compared with how Barnes has already drawn players from Spain, Turkey, Latvia, Australia, Italy and Canada. He asked if Barnes has given Miller advice about recruiting international players.
“I think sometimes (foreign players) are a lot more hungry and it’s just different,” Barnes said, noting the reality that the talent level is not the same as in the United States “I think the work ethic is different sometimes, for women especially. So I actually sent him a link to this global stuff. It’s the link we use tracking all the embassies and stuff. I sent it to them last week, but he was excited. He’s going to sign a few, so he’s excited.”
Kelly asked Barnes about her thoughts regarding legendary Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw retiring this week:
“I was very surprised,” Barnes said. “I think they had a down year but when you lose five players to the WNBA. I think that’s what happens. But she had been there 33 years. I was sad she retired because she has such a huge voice for women’s basketball. She’s outside the box and I think that she’s great for our game.
Commenting about former Fighting Irish star Niele Ivey hired to replace McGraw, Barnes said, “Niele’s been a friend of mine for many years, so I was really, really happy to see it paved the way for Niele. I think that was a great hire.”
Brown asked what Barnes has learned about herself during this time of COVID-19:
“I think for me, it’s time to spend time with our family,” she said. “I’ve cooked more than I have ever cooked. I never have time to cook. I’m usually working like 80 hours a week. So for me, I know I’m never going to have this time back, so I’m cherishing it.”
Barnes added that this pandemic will “reset” our society.
“I think it’s going to change our world,” she said. “I think like after 9-11, didn’t it change our travel? We couldn’t walk to the gate (at the airport). I think this is going to change our lives. I think it’s resetting us. It taught me about what’s important and just family time, and cherishing those things and not taking things for granted. I think that we all did before just getting into the hustle and bustle of working every day.”
Arizona’s 2020 recruiting class is headlined by 5-star post Lauren Ware, who has superstar potential in basketball and volleyball https://t.co/jWMpKnUmU8
Kelly asked about the possibility of Ware playing volleyball and basketball simultaneously at Arizona:
“I think it’s impossible if they’re the same season overlapping. I think there would be no way,” Barnes said. “I think the difference is I have a very good relationship with (Arizona volleyball coach) Dave (Rubio). If I did not have a good relationship with Dave, I don’t think it could be possible because when Lauren was looking at some other schools that did not have good a relationship between the sports, and the women’s basketball coaches were saying, ‘No, you need to come practice with us,’ I’m not saying that.
“I recognize I’m giving her up the whole non-conference, and that she’s not going to be in our skill-work. We’re putting in our defenses and all that. She’s gonna miss all that. So I’m okay with that. But a lot of places would make you choose because they wouldn’t be okay with that on both fronts.”
Brown then asked about how Barnes might change as a coach because of COVID-19:
Barnes said she is preparing for different scenarios involving her players leading up to the fall because she does not know when all of her team will be back in Tucson.
“If I get everybody in July, I’ll do workouts for a month,” she said. “But what does that look like because they haven’t done anything for months? So I’m just kind of trying to put different scenarios to help us be our best. And for me, it’s a great time to study. I have time to study some different things, study a lot of film on Trinity and who’s coming in … and putting in different things. I’ve never had so much time to do this. So that’s been good.”
The recruiting has not stopped. In fact, it has intensified with recruits on the other end of phone calls and ZOOM meetings to make up for visits in person. Barnes and her staff can go from one prospect to another quicker, which takes up more time.
“It’s just that recruiting is different,” Barnes said. “Now, if we don’t go out in July, that’s our biggest recruiting month, that’s when it tremendously changes a lot because kids that we would have seen in the earlier classes we’re not going to see, so now we’re using more stuff online.
“I think they are planning on playing in July. I don’t know if it’s going to be with coaches. So there might be more of watching on the computer.”
Barnes talking basketball, life as it is now, and what the future might hold, to reporters in May — a true sign of the times of the women’s hoops program.
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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.