Tara Manumaleuga has only been a member of the Arizona Wildcats for two weeks, but she has wasted no time making a favorable impression on her new teammates.
“She brings a ton of energy. She’s on the (scout) team. She’s making us better every day,” said sophomore forward Sam Thomas. “We love hearing her accent in practice. When she talks on defense, it’s just a great time.”
Manumaleuga is Arizona’s newest import. The Australian guard joined the team mid-season at the semester break after graduating high school in December.
Manumaleuga is one-fourth of Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class that is currently comprised entirely of international prospects. Manumaleuga is eligible to play immediately, but she will redshirt for the duration of the 2018-19 season and debut in 2019-20, hoping to help the Wildcats continue their ascension toward the top of the Pac-12.
Manumaleuga most recently played for the New Zealand U17 Team at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, where she averaged 12 points per game. (Her father is from New Zealand.)
“She’s athletic, she has some bounce in her step. She can shoot it from deep range. She has good size. She can run plays,” said UA coach Adia Barnes. “For her it’s getting back into shape and learning the system on the fly. She’s a great kid. She just adds another body (for practice), and we don’t have a lot of bodies.”
Manumaleuga met with the media Thursday for the first time since arriving in Tucson. Here is what she had to say. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
How has the transition from Australia to Arizona been so far?
TM: It’s been tough, but ultimately it’s an asset being on campus six months earlier than the class of 2019. So getting used to the facilities, training with the team, getting used to the players and everything is definitely good.
What has been the biggest difference between here and there?
TM: I mean, the weather’s kind of the same, so that hasn’t really been different but probably the independence. Being young and having to do everything on my own now, it’s pretty crazy.
How did you end up here?
TM: My uncle (Brandon Manumaleuna) actually played football here. He’s in the (Ring of Honor). I have family around Arizona as well, but Arizona was probably the best fit for me of all my choices.
Did your uncle push you to go here?
TM: No, he didn’t really push me. He let me go in my own direction. ... My brother (Jalen) was probably my focal point in my decision because he played college as well. He knew the process and knew what it took and prepared me for it.
When did your recruitment pick up?
TM: I started pretty early. I started at the beginning of 2018 and then started narrowing down my choices. At the Under-17 World Championship, that’s when I had to really like focus on my top five. After that, which was around August, I just had to make a decision. It was Arizona.
What other schools were you considering?
TM: Xavier, Long Beach State, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Buffalo.
How did Arizona recruit you?
TM: We FaceTimed probably at least four times a week. The time difference (15 hours) is crazy, so we had to really manage it and organize things, but it was good.
What did you like about this program?
TM: The relationships that I built with the coaches are second to none. And when I came on my official visit, the team, the girls were great. The university itself was a great fit for me. It’s safe and Arizona is safe compared to a lot of other states in America. But just being a part of something that’s going to be big, you can already see where this program is going and being a part of this is definitely an honor and a privilege.
What is your goal for this season, knowing that you won’t be playing?
TM: Just get better, get repetition, put in some work, get used to playing with the team, learn how each of the girls play.
Are you more of a combo guard?
TM: I’ve always played 1, 2, and 3, but mainly shooting guard.
Is shooting your No. 1 asset?
TM: Yeah, I would say so.
How are practices here different than what you experienced in Australia?
TM: I’ve always trained with my women’s senior team at home, so training with older girls has always been a thing for me. But it’s definitely next level. You’re always going 100 (percent), always trying to get better.
What is the appeal of coming and playing college ball in the United States?
TM: It’s just been a dream of mine ever since I was little growing up and seeing my brother play. I’ve been to America to play in a couple basketball tournaments. The culture and the vibe is crazy, and I just loved it.
You are from Australia but your father is from New Zealand, so what do you consider yourself to be?
TM: By heart I’m definitely an Aussie. Raised in Queensland, born in Sydney. But half my ethnicity is New Zealand or Kiwi. So Aussie, New Zealand, I can’t really tell you which one I am.
Are you going to keep playing internationally with New Zealand?
TM: Yeah, when I get the chance. I’ll definitely go back and represent New Zealand when I can.