Arizona Women's Basketball

Adia Barnes emerged from humble beginning at Arizona

Tucked in the corner of Page 3C of the Arizona Daily Star sports section on April 14, 1994, the headline of Adia Barnes’ signing with Arizona read:

“Arizona women add sixth recruit”

The story was part of a roundup that included an update of the Arizona rugby and lacrosse club teams.

“Adia is unique in that she has the ability to go inside or outside,” Joan Bonvicini said in a statement released by the school. “She can shoot the three or power up inside. Adia will have the ability to go for big numbers and she will push for a starting spot.”

Barnes was one of eight newcomers in 1994-95, Bonvicini’s fourth season at Arizona. Many of those players were instrumental in Arizona reaching its first Sweet 16 against UConn as seniors in 1997-98.

Adia Barnes hugs Aari McDonald while celebrating a trip to the Final Four (Arizona Athletics photo)

Barnes went largely unrecruited despite being part of Mission Bay (Calif.) High School’s first state championship team in 1993-94. She was a 5-foot-11 player who could play at the wing or at power forward but was utilized at the post in high school.

College coaches passed on her because they felt she was too small to play at the post.

Mission Bay beat Escondido 68-44 for the CIF Division II title about a month before she signed with Arizona. Barnes had 14 points and six steals in that game, creating havoc on the perimeter and at the post.

“She believed in me when not many other coaches did,” Barnes said last year about Bonvicini recruiting her late in the process.

“I was an undersized post player, but she did not see me that way. She saw how I could benefit her program by showing a belief in me that I can play multiple positions, including close to the basket. That’s what I wanted to do. Other coaches would not give me that chance.”

Bonvicini recalls first watching Barnes at Mission Bay, which is in the San Diego area, very late in her senior season with no other major colleges showing interest.

Joan Bonvicini had a very late start to recruiting Adia Barnes out of San Diego (Arizona Athletics photo)

“We knew about Adia her senior year in the fall and she was really unrecruited as a player, so I hadn’t seen her in person,” Bonvicini said. “Things are a little bit different now. I mean, you could just pull up a video on your computer. Well, it wasn’t like that.

“She had really good statistics, but she was really not getting the kind of offer she wanted. We’re talking DII schools.”

Vista (Calif.) High School guard DeAngela Minter, also from the San Diego area, received more publicity after she committed to Arizona before her senior season on Oct. 21, 1993.

Minter, who chose Arizona over BYU and Colorado, averaged 21.9 points a game as a senior and carried a 4.43 GPA (not a misprint).

When Vista captured the CIF Division I championship that season, Minter scored 32 points with eight rebounds in the title game.

Attracting two of the best players from San Diego in one class was a major coup for Bonvicini, who first considered Barnes after she got word of her stats.

“Adia was averaging like 27 or 29 points a game and I sent out (assistant) Clemette Haskins because her numbers kept going up and up and up,” Barnes said. “Clemette called me during the game said, ‘Joan, you need to get out here and come to the next game.’

“I did. I flew out there the next day and watched her by myself and I was so impressed. I don’t know if I’ve ever done this before. This was so late. We’re talking like March and Adia hadn’t signed. This was a CIF playoff game and they won. I went down to the court after the game. Once she got released by her coach (after the postgame talk), I offered her right there.”

Less than three weeks later, Barnes made Page 3 news in a blurb in the Arizona Daily Star sports section after signing with Arizona.

During Media Day before her freshman season, Barnes was already focused on her young teammates, not about her own future.

“I think the most encouraging thing is we’re all coming together,” Barnes said, already sounding like a coach. “If this was a team with a lot of seniors, and only two freshmen, the freshmen might feel out of place.”

We’re all coming together.

Barnes mentioned similar words about her Arizona team that clinched the school’s first Final Four appearance with a win over Indiana in the Elite Eight..

“We’re playing for each other, enjoying the ride,” said Barnes, whose team plays perennial power UConn Friday in the Final Four at 6:30 p.m. at San Antonio.

“We’re going to put it all on the line.”

In her first year as a player at Arizona, Barnes emerged immediately as front-page news, a diamond-in-the-rough, earning the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award. That foretold her becoming an All-American and the best women’s basketball player in Arizona history by the time her career concluded.

Barnes now has Arizona front and center nationally coaching the Wildcats to the Final Four with catalyst Aari McDonald, now the best player in program history.

Imagine if Bonvicini did not take an interest to Barnes’ stats her senior season at Mission Bay. What would today be like if she did not send Clemette Haskins to the playoff game to watch her?

“Recruiting, let’s just say is not a science,” Bonvicini said. “The thing is you’ve got to see something in people that’s special. I think one of my strengths was looking at players and being able to project potentially how I thought they could do.

“I saw something special in Adia right away, even more, I think, than she thought of herself.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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