Only entering her second season as the Arizona Wildcats’ head coach, Adia Barnes is already out-recruiting women’s basketball powerhouses like Connecticut, Stanford, and Notre Dame.
According to ProspectsNation.com, Arizona currently has the No. 2 2018 recruiting class in the country, only behind Tennessee.
Not bad for program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011.
“I thought it (our recruiting) would take a few years to get to that,” Barnes recently admitted on the Wildcat Country podcast. “I just looked at the rest of the Pac-12, how they build programs — whether it’s Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA — and kind of their progression over the years, and I didn’t think it would happen so fast.”
Playing for a program without a winning tradition would figure to be a turnoff for the nation’s top recruits, but Barnes has actually used it to UA’s advantage, telling prospects they can be the ones to turn around a Pac-12 program.
And Barnes can point to her own career as a Wildcat to prove that it’s an obtainable feat.
Arizona won just 11 games in Barnes’ freshman year in 1994-95, but wound up winning 20-plus games in each of her final three seasons, and reached the program’s first Sweet Sixteen in 1998.
“That was one of the reasons why I chose Arizona,” Barnes said. “We had a big class, we ended up being top-10 my junior and senior year. So our staff was able to sell a vision.”
Barnes has every resource imaginable to make her vision for UA women’s basketball a reality.
She has the state-of-the-art Richard Jefferson Gymnasium practice facility, a recently-renovated McKale Center and women’s basketball locker room, a basketball-crazed fanbase, and the sunny UA campus to sell.
“We’re the type of program and brand — and it’s evident with men’s basketball — that you can go anywhere and get anybody,” Barnes said.
A motto Barnes is clearly putting to use.
Arizona currently has four commits in its highly-regarded 2018 class, and all of them are from different parts of the country...err...world.
Arizona has commitments from five-star forward Valeria Trucco (Italy), four-star forwards Cate Reese (Texas) and Shalyse Smith (Washington), and four-star guard Bryce Nixon (Arizona).
On top of that, Arizona has reeled in several transfers that will be eligible in 2018-19, including former Washington guard Aarion McDonald, a member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, and former Purdue forward Dominque McBryde, a Big Ten honorable mention last season.
Barnes called it the nation’s best transfer class.
“I’m willing to recruit anywhere and I will go everywhere,” Barnes said in June.
“I don’t feel like I have to settle here. I’m in a great place. I’m in the best conference, I have the best administration, so for me this place is special, so it deserves to get great people.”
It helps that Barnes’ coaching staff has a vast network of recruiting ties. Her husband and assistant coach, Salvo Coppa, used his Italian connections to land Trucco, Europe’s top post player.
Assistant coach Morgan Valley, who was hired this offseason, worked with Barnes at Washington and helped lead a comparable UW program to the Final Four in 2016.
“Recruiting relationships are essential,” Barnes said. “We’re good recruiters. We have a lot of relationships and ties all over the country, all over the world.”
This summer, Barnes and company made recruiting stops in Georgia, Minnesota, California, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Illinois, Oregon and, yes, Italy.
“I think I do have a philosophy for a recruiting footprint, but why not use my connections?” she said.
While Barnes is already recruiting on par with women’s college basketball’s powerhouses, she knows the on-court product will take longer to improve.
Arizona, which went 14-16 last season, lost five seniors, and Barnes said Arizona will be younger and have less depth this season, as they added four freshmen and have three transfers who have to sit out.
The Wildcats might even take a step back from a record standpoint in 2017-18, but that shouldn’t overshadow the progress Barnes is making to bring Arizona women’s basketball into the national spotlight.
“When I was being recruited by Arizona, Coach Barnes really stressed how she’s rebuilding the program,” said Sam Thomas, a four-star forward from Michigan who was Arizona’s top 2017 recruit. “Judging by the recruits we have here and who we’re getting, we know that she was true about what she said.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire