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Get to know Arizona women’s basketball’s 2018 recruiting class

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Arizona’s class is ranked No. 4 in the country

Photo courtesy Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics

Signed, sealed, and delivered.

The Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team inked five 2018 recruits Wednesday at the start of the early-signing period.

UA’s highly-touted class is currently ranked No. 4 in the country, per ProspectsNation.com.

Here’s a little about each signee with some analysis from head coach Adia Barnes at the end. The Wildcats are not expected to add any more players.

Bryce Nixon, G

  • 5’10” guard from Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Rated as a 4-star guard by ProspectsNation.com.
  • Averaged 20 points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals per game as a junior at Arcadia High School.

Shalyse Smith, F

  • 6’1” forward from Tacoma, Wash.
  • Rated as a 4-star forward by ProspectsNation.com as well as the No. 7 forward and the No. 48 player in the country.
  • Averaged 15.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, two steals and 1.6 blocks per game as a junior.

Semaj Smith, F/C

  • 6’5” post player from Long Beach, Calif.
  • 5-star recruit, No. 53 overall, No. 9 post player, per ESPN.
  • Daughter of Rhonda Smith who holds Long Beach State’s single-season block record.
  • Averaged 15.9 points, 15.2 rebounds and 5.7 blocks last year as a junior.

Cate Reese, F

  • 6’3” forward from Cypress, Texas.
  • 5-star recruit, ranked No. 13 overall and the No. 4 post player in the country.
  • Highest-ranked recruit Arizona has ever landed.
  • Averaged 22.3 points per game and grabbed 13.2 rebounds per game as a junior.

Valeria Trucco, F/C

  • 6’4” post player from Torino, Italy.
  • 5-star recruit, per ProspectsNation.
  • Member of the U16, U17 and U18 Italian National Teams.
  • Regarded as the top post player in Europe.

Adia Barnes discusses 2018 class

Q: How excited are you to finally be able to talk about these girls?

Adia Barnes: “I’m really excited. So the scary thing is with women’s basketball today, or just college athletics, a commitment is nothing. A commitment doesn’t mean anything. So when you can actually secure the class, it’s huge. You’re still recruiting everybody until then. You never know what’s going to happen, so to finally get the signatures on the dotted line, it means a lot. And to be able to talk about it is just really exciting for us."

Q: What player type were you going after in this recruiting class?

AB: “First of all, the best players. But I knew that we didn’t have a lot of post players. We didn’t have size inside so for sure a focal point was the post. Once we got [Washington transfer Aarion McDonald], I knew we had great guards and Marlee (Kyles) was only a freshman, so it was a focal point to just get bigger because the Pac-12 is so big and everybody just has long players on their team.”

Q: What separates the post players from the other?

AB: “So they’re all very different. Shalyse Smith was the first committed player, the first signed player. She was somebody I recruited back when I was at my old job and she was someone that I knew I wanted to go after. She’s versatile, she’s tenacious on offense and defense, she’s a fighter, she’s competitive, she’s athletic, so she is going to give us a really going-to-war-with kid. She’s also a great kid who fits our culture off the court.

“Cate Reese is different, and her and Shalyse can play together. Cate Reese is just a fierce competitor. She brings it for every night. She’s diving for balls, she’s sprinting the floor everytime. She doesn’t back down from anybody. She’s not afraid of anybody. That was that competitive chip that I want. … She can shoot the 15-footer, we’re going to develop her 3 more, but she can step out and shoot the 3. I knew they could play together.

“And then Valeria will give us more size. … Valeria Trucco is 6-4, 6-5 and she can really stretch the defense. She’s like a deadly 3-point shooter, really will stretch the defense, so she can play with Cate or Shalyse. She’s also a very good passer and gives us more size. She can play against the 5s in our league.

“The icing on the cake with that was Semaj Smith. Semaj is 6-6, she’s really long, she alters shots inside, she finishes well around the basket, she has a nice turnaround jumper and, if I want to go really big, I can play Semaj and Valeria. But they can all play with each other. … So it’ll just give us some different looks.

“And then we have [Purdue transfer Dominique McBryde] who is able to mold and teach those players, so I was excited about (our class). We’re a post-heavy class, but that’s what we want, because posts are very hard to get.

Barnes on Bryce Nixon...

AB: “I recruited her some while I was at Washington. I knew that getting a great player in-state means a lot. … She’s a really smart player, she can knock down shots, and people don’t realize that she’s 5-foot-10. She’s not a 5-6, small guard, so she has length. She can play the 1, 2, or 3. … I like the size we’re getting and it allows us to hone in on a couple positions and focus on the 2019 class because we’re only going to need 1 or 2 players."

Barnes compares this fall signing period to last year’s...

AB: “Last year getting the job late and having to scramble and being behind on all the kids is really hard. This year, having time do build relationships and honestly we shot really high. Last year I thought getting a 150-ranked class would have been good here. It surprised me getting some of the commitments. We went after some really top kids. We’re competing with the Ohio States, Cals, Stanfords, Tennessees … It was just a lot of top schools.

“I had an AAU coach, a really important AAU coach, he said to me ‘you know, a couple years ago you wouldn’t have even been in the mix.’ And now we’re on the radar. We shot for the stars, our staff worked really hard, and we kept relationships, built new ones, and were able to secure that class, so it’s huge for us.

“The hard part about this situation is you’re selling a vision. We’re not selling recent success. So it’s a really hard to go to a top-10 kid in the country and say ‘we’re going to good one day’ because everybody says that. People want evidence and proof.

“People want to go win. They want to go the Final Four so you have to show to them that you’re going to build great teammates around them and you’re going to build a championship culture, and that’s hard to do, because we’re competing with better programs right now. Now that I have these players, now it’s easier to get the other top kids. Now we have some here, so we know we’re going to be successful later.

“But it’s a leap of faith. Shalyse’s (commitment) was a leap of faith initially. I had a longstanding relationship with her, but she had to trust me. Bryce had to trust me. She could have gone to Oregon State, she could have gone to other schools. Cate had to trust me, she’s leaving out of Texas. It’s really hard to get kids out of Texas. She could have gone to Texas or Texas A&M.”

Q: What do the current players think about the recruits? A lot of them will be playing together next year.

AB: “They haven’t really said anything, they’re just really excited about the class. They’ve built relationships with these players, so I think they’re just happy that it’s secured now.

“But I think that when you’re building a top program, a winning program, you’re always going to overrecruit your players. So if you’re not recruiting a better player, then you’re not doing your job. So what you instill in your players now is that, yeah there’s some good players coming in, but you’re here. You need to work on your game and get better and you’ll be ready. You’re not a rookie next year. They just have to keep getting better, but that’s our job. Our job is to get a better player. Our job is to go get the next great player that adds to that, and that’s how you build a program.”