AllSportsTucson.com is running a series of profiles on members of Arizona’s 1997-98 Sweet 16 team, the first in program history. Our next profile is on Felecity Willis, a sophomore guard from Apple Valley, Calif., that season. Special thanks to Felecity, who lives in Tucson, for helping to gather information on her 1997-98 teammates for this series. Previously in the series were Amber Phoenix, Marte Alexander, Lisa Griffith, Reshea Bristol and Cha-Ron Walker-Harris. Click on their names in the roster below to retrieve their stories.
Willis, who went on to be a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, holds the distinction of playing on four NCAA tournament teams at Arizona as well as twice taking part in the Women’s College World Series with the softball team. After coaching locally at the high school level, Willis has worked her way into becoming a referee in five Division I college conferences, including the Pac-12. She also works Division II, NAIA and junior college basketball games.
“What I liked the most about the ‘97-‘98 team is how focused and determined we were. My freshman season we finished with a 23-8 record and went to the NCAA tournament for the first time but we wanted more! We came ready to practice everyday and our practices were intense. We all made each other better on the court! We had a genuine love for each other which translated to the court. A couple memories that stick out are the Australia trip and our win over Stanford. Australia was a great trip because it brought us together not only did we get to play some games but we also got to see some amazing sites we went white water rafting, bungee jumping and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. The Stanford win was amazing. Both teams played really well. We hit 13 3-point shots while Stanford made nine and in the end, Reshea Bristol hit an amazing shot at the buzzer to give us our first victory over Stanford. I can still picture the whole team running over and jumping on top of her as if it were yesterday!“
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.”
Willis mentioned that she sees a more calm and collected Barnes as a coach than when she was as a player.
“When she played, she was a beast,” Willis said. “She was an undersized post player. She didn’t care who she was going up against. She would get excited.
“One of my main memories of her always was that she wore a mouthpiece. She had braces. Every time she got excited and she took the mouthpiece out, she had saliva everywhere. That’s just how it was. She would get excited. She was a player you don’t want to mess with.”
ARIZONA 1997-98 ROSTER
Head coach: Joan Bonvicini. Assistant coaches: Denise Dove, Traci Waites and Bill Broderick. Click on the name of the player to retrieve their story.
|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.