The Arizona women’s basketball team is going to have a packed promotional schedule next season.
“There’s going to be a Turkish Night, there’s going to be a Latvia Night, there’s going to be an Australian Night,” said head coach Adia Barnes. “It’s something to celebrate.”
Those nights will reflect what will be an increasingly diverse roster. The Wildcats’ 2019 recruiting class consists of four international prospects from four different countries.
There’s Latvian guard Mara Mote, Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga, Turkish post player Sevval Gul and Icelandic forward Birna Beonnysdottir.
“I didn’t think I would have so many foreigners in that class. It just kind of worked out like that,” Barnes said. “There were certain specific kids that I went after for specific needs.”
Yet, recruiting overseas has quickly become Arizona’s calling card. Even its lone 2020 commit, point guard Derin Erdogan, hails from Turkey.
Every school tries to recruit internationally, but few have the connections Arizona’s coaching staff boasts.
Barnes played professionally overseas for 13 years including stops in Italy, Israel, Turkey, Russia, and the Ukraine. And her husband and assistant, Salvo Coppa, coached in Italy for 14 years.
That’s a lot of time to build relationships.
“A lot of times in situations overseas, I played with their coach or their mom used to play and watch me, that’s how old I am,” Barnes joked. “Or that club recruited me as a player and has a relationship with me, or my coach is now the (general manager) of a club. There’s just different relationships like that and Salvo also helps in Spain because not a lot of them speak English. He can speak Spanish and he can speak both dialects in Spain. That’s helpful. Without the connections, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to recruit half these kids.”
Arizona still plans to add two more recruits to its 2019 class and, yes, both could be international prospects.
Barnes brushed off any concerns that Arizona is recruiting foreigners too heavily. One risk is that those players will opt to stay overseas instead of attending the UA, which is what happened this summer when five-star post player Valeria Trucco signed professionally in her hometown in Italy.
Then again, as Barnes has continually noted, American players are increasingly prone to transferring now that student-athletes are allowed to seek out a new school without receiving permission from their current school.
The Wildcats have lost four players to transfer since the end of last season.
“I don’t worry because that’s not going to be the whole future of the program,” Barnes said of recruiting internationally. “But right now, I’m not going to not take a player because she’s foreign. Because right now I can’t get the No. 1 player in the country … but in a couple years we will get them, so right now if I can get a higher player that is recruited by the whole Pac-12 and Ohio State and South Florida and a lot of great schools, I’d be crazy not to take them.”
It remains to be seen if all that international talent will help turn around an Arizona program that has not had a winning season since 2010-11, but Barnes compared her roster construction to that of the San Antonio Spurs, who have arguably been the most successful NBA franchise the last two decades, thanks to contributions from foreigners like Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Patty Mills (Australia) and Boris Diaw (France).
“They brought in some great international talent and then everybody wants to play in that program,” Barnes said. “So for me, I don’t think it matters, and if you look at how everyone’s recruiting, there’s not one school that’s not trying to go overseas. … Everybody is trying to recruit there, a lot of them just can’t.”
Having played overseas, Barnes appreciates the quality of basketball over there, which tends to be more predicated on fundamentals and less on sheer athleticism.
She wants her teams to reflect that style and is betting that it will be effective at the collegiate level.
“I don’t want players that aren’t fundamental,” Barnes said. “It’s my job to teach better fundamentals and work on skills, but I want high basketball IQs … and that’s probably why I’m attracted to a lot of foreign kids.
“I played a lot of time overseas and if I didn’t play a lot of time overseas, I don’t think I would have looked so much overseas, just because I understand the game, I understand the fit. If I didn’t have those experiences I probably wouldn’t know to. A lot of people aren’t going to go to Serbia. I’m not scared to go. My job is to build the program the best way that I can and right now this is the best way and it’ll work. We have to have confidence in that.”
Barnes details each 2019 signee
Here is what Barnes had to say about UA’s 2019 signees.
On Latvian guard Mara Mote: “She’s a guard, she can score it. She can play the 2, she can play the 1, she’s athletic, good in transition, good in the open floor, good 3-point shot, so really kind of what we needed.”
On Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga “She’s a specialist, a 3-point shooter. but she has good size. She’s 5-10, 5-11, can get to the rim on straight line drives.”
On Turkish post player Sevval Gul: “She is a skilled post player. She’s a player that has a great shot, she can shoot the 3, she can shoot from the high post, she’s really smart, a good passer, and she has good size at 6-4.”
On Icelandic forward Birna Beonnysdottir: “Birna from Iceland is a versatile face-up 4. She can shoot the 3, pick and pop, plays a lot of our style, because we play 4-out 1-in, and she has the potential to be a good player, too. So if we add the other two players that I have in mind, which I can’t talk about yet, then we have a very strong class.”
Adia Barnes breaks down @ArizonaWBB’s 2019 recruiting class, which consists of 4 international prospects — Mara Mote (Latvia), Tara Manumaleuga (Australia), Sevval Gul (Turkey) and Birna Bennonysdottir (Iceland).— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) November 29, 2018
Arizona still plans to add two more to the class. pic.twitter.com/QhcUKLA6ww