Her comparison with Damon Stoudamire drew a Twitter exchange between Aari McDonald and “Mighty Mouse” during the Wildcats’ historic run to the national championship game a couple of weeks ago.
Their style of play as left-handed shooters, quick off-the-dribble playmakers and leaders on the court are reasonable comparisons to make.
When it comes to the stature of a player — men or women — who has impacted Arizona basketball the most, nobody compares to McDonald unless the name is Sean Elliott.
McDonald’s value to the development of Adia Barnes’ burgeoning program on a national scale is comparable to how Elliott enabled Lute Olson to make Arizona a perennial power.
Elliott led Arizona to its first No. 1 ranking in school history, broke Lew Alcindor’s conference scoring record, became a national player of the year and led the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 1988.
McDonald took Arizona from the depths of 12 losing seasons in 13 years and no NCAA tournament appearances since 2005 to its highest ground in her three-year career. Arizona achieved its loftiest ranking (No. 6) in program history this season and the Wildcats advanced to their first Final Four and national championship game.
McDonald was not named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, but she certainly was worthy.
Chris Paul tweeted: “Excited to watch Aari McDonald in the W(NBA)….watched her in the ncaa tournament and she is tough!!!!!”
Hillary Clinton said last week that McDonald is “amazing.”
Forget about McDonald being among the top 10 of men and women players to ever play at McKale Center during the modern era of college hoops.
She is either No. 1A or No. 1B with Elliott, take your pick.
The highest @WNBA draft pick in Arizona history.
— Arizona Women’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) April 15, 2021
“I’m paving the way for all the future Wildcats out there,” McDonald said when asked about becoming the first Arizona player to be selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
That happened on Thursday afternoon when the Atlanta Dream selected McDonald as the No. 3 pick overall.
Elliott in 1989 was Arizona’s highest pick in the history of the men’s program with his No. 3 selection overall by the San Antonio Spurs.
“He’s the closest thing to Magic (Johnson) since Magic,” Olson said of Elliott on draft night. “Ability-wise, he’s the most talented player I’ve had coaching.”
Magic tweeted during the NCAA Tournament, “I was really proud of Aari McDonald! She was most exciting player in the entire tournament!!”
Barnes was the most legendary player in Arizona women’s hoops history until McDonald followed her from Washington in 2017. Barnes, a former assistant with the Huskies, hit the recruiting trail to Fresno to bond with McDonald since McDonald was in the 10th grade. The stars aligned for Arizona at that time.
“She was a lot better than I ever was,” Barnes said after the championship game against Stanford. “The fact that I held those records for so long, doesn’t mean a lot, because it means you weren’t that good for a long time. Aari just shattered everything.
“Better player than I could have ever been. Led us to the national championship game when no one would have thought that.”
Those who don’t invest the time to watch Barnes’ team play from tipoff to the final buzzer game in and game out or view a WNBA game on ESPN, will say that it is ridiculous to compare McDonald with Elliott.
Women’s basketball does not take a backseat to men’s basketball at Arizona. Revenue is one thing; the redeeming value to the university and this city is another.
Attendance at McKale Center for games involving Barnes’ teams in the years to come will strengthen that argument.
“I think the women’s game is disrespected and I think people need to open their eyes,” McDonald said.
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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.