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Get to know Birna Benonysdottir, Arizona’s Icelandic freshman

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When Adia Barnes was hired as Arizona’s head coach, she promised to search far and wide for the best talent.

That included a big (literally) addition from Iceland this summer in the form of 6-foot-3 freshman Birna Benonysdottir.

The Keflavik native has extensive experience playing for the Icelandic national team. Most recently, she averaged 12 points and four rebounds while helping Iceland finish in 10th place at the U20 European Championships.

She also averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block for the U18 Iceland Team in the 2017 European Championships. At the club level, she averaged nine points and four rebounds playing for Keflavik, her hometown team.

“Birna from Iceland is a versatile face-up 4,” Barnes said after signing day last year. “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.”

We caught up with Bennonysdottir, who speaks almost perfect English, for a few minutes on media day. Here is the full interview along with the transcript:

Icelandic freshman Birna Benonysdottir discusses why she chose Arizona Women's Basketball, her skill set, hot dogs, and more

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, October 2, 2019

What has the adjustment been like so far coming to Tucson and the U of A?

“I mean, it’s been really different from my home country, like the heat and all the stuff, but I’m adjusting fine and it’s starting to feel like home.”

What goes into the decision to come to United States to go to college and play basketball as opposed to staying home?

“I just wanted to improve my game and get better. That was the main reason I’m here.”

Why Arizona as opposed to other schools?

“I mean, I really like the coaches and the program. And it just looked really good and I was just really interested in the school.

What did you like about the coaches?

“Their enthusiasm and how open they are.”

How does Adia’s background of playing overseas help her connect with you?

“She knows what it’s like to be really far from home and not knowing the language. I mean, I know English, but it’s really different being in the environment at all times.”

How much does it help to have other international players joining the team with you?

“I don’t know what I would do without them.”

How do they help the most?

“We just connect because we’re having troubles, maybe with understanding something in class. We can help each other.”

How did you get into basketball?

“My mom used to play. When I was like six years old. I was like, ‘I want to be like, Mom,’ so I started playing and I really liked it.”

What do you expect to bring this season?

“I just want to bring like enthusiasm and be a good teammate. That’s my goal.”

How would you describe your skill set?

“Dang, I don’t know. I can shoot.”

So how do you think you can fit with other frontcourt players like Cate (Reese) and Dominique (McBryde)?

“I feel like I can play with Cate and Dominique both. I think we can help each other in the paint. We can find each other. I feel like I can see good passes, and also, they give good passes in the paint.”

How is the style of play different here as opposed to Europe?

“It’s way faster here. Like at home, you don’t play this fast. And it’s way more [physical]. We don’t have as much touches.

How has your experience in FIBA helped you?

“That has helped me grow as a player, playing against better opponents. So I feel like that has helped me get better to be able to play at this level.”

If you could bring one thing from Iceland to Arizona, what would it be?

“My dad is coming for a visit and I’ve been to talking to him about what he’s gonna bring to me. And he’s gonna bring, it sounds weird, but Icelandic hot dogs. And then Icelandic candy.”

How are Icelandic hot dogs different from American hot dogs?

“Honestly, I can’t explain it. They’re just smaller and they’re not as strong.”

Had you ever been to the United States before coming here?

“Yeah, I came here like five years ago, and I went to a basketball camp in Philadelphia, a Sixers camp. And then I just came for my visit.”

How did you learn English? In school?

“Yeah, I started studying English when I was 10 years old.”

How confident are you in it?

“I’m OK, but I also struggle a little bit in my academics.”

How much did you pay attention to last season and what the team did in the WNIT?

“I watched every game of the WNIT and also over the season, I watched a couple of games. I was intrigued by how they play. They looked like such a great team.”

What did you think of the fan support and sell-out crowds?

“Great. It’s so different from Iceland. In Iceland, we only have like 360,000 people in our whole country. So like having like 15,000 people here in this gym, that’s like the whole people in my hometown.”