AllSportsTucson.com is running a series of profiles on members of Arizona’s 1997-98 Sweet 16 team, the first in program history. Today’s profile is on Marte Alexander, a center with the Wildcats who went on to a pro career in Europe for 12 years. She averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds and shot 59.4 percent from the field in 1997-98. In 2006, she acquired Italian citizenship and played for the Italy women’s national basketball team in the EuroBasket Women 2009. She co-owns a gift shop/convenience store in Pesaro, Italy, with her husband. Special thanks to Felecity Willis for helping to gather information on her 1997-98 teammates for this series.
“After the U of A, I came to Italy to play ball, and never left. Twenty-three years later (12 of which I played professionally), I’m still in Italy, in Pesaro, which is on the Adriatic Coast. I live here with my husband, Enrico, and two sons Anthony (13) and Christopher (6). We own a local business and work together. I received my coaching certification a few years ago and this year I am am assistant for our local women’s team (3rd Division, pro league).”
Arizona is returning to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 1997-98 team went that far into the NCAA tournament, and the one constant between the two is head coach Adia Barnes.
Barnes was Arizona’s leading scorer on the team that reached the Sweet 16 and played UConn 23 years ago in Dayton, Ohio, under Arizona Hall of Fame coach Joan Bonvicini. The Wildcats culminated a 23-7 season with a 74-57 loss to the traditional power under Geno Auriemma. Arizona that year was ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP Top 25.
Barnes has now coached the Wildcats and All-American guard Aari McDonald to the Sweet 16 in her fifth season at her alma mater. No. 3-seeded Arizona (18-5) faces No. 2 Texas A&M (25-2) in the Mercado Region of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.
“I’m getting a lot of messages on Facebook and Twitter and DMs (direct messages) just wishing us good luck and everybody is just so proud of the program,” Barnes said when asked if she stays in contact with her 1997-98 teammates. “It’s come so far along. Most of these people were out of touch with the program for 10-12 years, kind of like how I was when I wasn’t here.
“I am really trying to be intentional about connecting with players. I want Arizona to be where everybody comes back and talks to the team, where there’s relationships and they help with jobs.”
Barnes said Arizona’s team from 23 years ago is similar to her team this year.
“We were scrappy. It’s funny because we were a full-court pressing — I was at the top of the press — run and jump (team),” she said. “Very similar to how we are now, that’s what’s kind of ironic. Everything is kind of parallel, the story of how I built it — very similar to Joan when I came.
“Joan was a players’ coach that had a connection with me a lot like Aari and I, and Cate (Reese) and I, and Sam (Thomas) and I. Aggressive, blue-collar, scrappy — we’d make it look ugly sometimes, but we played that type of defense. That’s kind of what we’re doing right now.”
ARIZONA 1997-98 ROSTER
Head coach: Joan Bonvicini. Assistant coaches: Denise Dove, Traci Waites and Bill Broderick.
|0||Shontey Hambrick||F||6-0||Jr.||Moreno Valley, Calif.|
|3||Lisa Griffith||G||5-6||So.||Portland Ore.|
|10||Reshea Bristol||G||5-10||Fr.||Omaha, Neb.|
|22||Monika Crank||G||5-7||Jr.||Page, Ariz.|
|23||Felecity Willis||G||5-7||So.||Apple Valley, Calif.|
|30||Adia Barnes||F||5-11||Sr.||San Diego, Calif.|
|31||Amber Phoenix||G||5-7||Jr.||El Cajon, Calif.|
|32||DeAngela Minter||G||5-6||Sr.||Vista, Calif.|
|33||Cha-Ron Walker||F||6-1||Sr.||Los Angeles, Calif.|
|34||Mikko Giordano||F||6-1||Sr.||Ventura, Calif.|
|35||Fatima Imara||F||6-3||Sr.||Fremont, Calif.|
|42||Marte Alexander||C||6-4||Sr.||Los Angeles, Calif.|
|50||LaKeisha Taylor||C||6-4||Fr.||Houston, Tex.|
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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.