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Arizona signs Spanish guard Helena Pueyo to round out 2019 recruiting class

Photo courtesy FIBA

The Arizona Wildcats announced the signing of Spanish guard Helena Pueyo, who becomes the fifth and final member of their 2019 recruiting class.

The group consists solely of international players—Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga (who joined the team at the semester break), Icelandic forward Birna Benonysdottir, Turkish forward Sevval Gul, and Latvian guard Mara Mote.

“Helena is special,” UA coach Adia Barnes said in a statement. “Her size, shooting ability, the way she sees the floor and her versatility makes her elite. She is going to add so much to our team on and off of the court. For us to land the best 2019 Spanish guard and one of the top guards in Europe is a huge boost for our young program. The future is bright and she will be a star in the Pac-12.”

Pueyo, who committed to Arizona in late February, is considered of the best European players in her age group.

Suiting up for the Spanish National Team, Pueyo averaged 8.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in the 2018 FIBA U17 Women’s Basketball World Cup.

Pueyo played for Segle XXI in Spain’s Liga Feminina 2 this year and led the team in both scoring (12.5 ppg) and assists (2.4). She also averaged 1.6 steals per game and shot 51 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 85 percent from the free throw line.

“I’m excited to play for Arizona and continue the momentum they have created,” Pueyo said. “I want to play a high level of college basketball, and I know I will get that at Arizona and in the Pac-12. Playing professionally has always been a dream of mine, and coach Barnes and the rest of the staff will help me reach all my goals. I am excited to get to Tucson and continue to build the program.”

While the Wildcats are done adding 2019 freshmen, Barnes said earlier this month that they are hoping to add a transfer or two, with shooting, size and athleticism on the perimeter being the biggest needs.

“If they don’t make us better on and off the court, I’m not even taking a chance,” Barnes said. “There’s two ways you can think about it. A transfer can help you right away and then can bring a championship, a winning attitude and help you in different ways. Or you look long-term for transfers.

“I’m not huge on transfers, but if they can help us and I know people that know them or that have coached them, and I know it’s a good situation, I’ll take them. But from my past experience, I’m not someone who would take like five transfers. ... It’s something I wouldn’t really have looked at in the past, but now I think as we’re getting better, there’s pieces that can really help us get to that next level.”

The Wildcats are returning their entire starting five, meaning they will have an abundance of depth next season when you add recruits and potential transfers into the picture.

When asked how Arizona’s style of play will change next season, Barnes said the Wildcats will be able to go deeper into their bench, which should lead to defensive improvement as they hope to build off their WNIT championship run.

“I think the problem is keeping everybody happy,” Barnes said. “Kids are leaving programs every year so it’s very easy when someone’s not playing to jump ship. There’s a balance of that.

“Like Semaj (Smith) this year. Semaj did great. Some games she didn’t play, some games she played a little bit. She always had a great attitude, she was a great teammate. I think in a lot of situations players aren’t like that. They don’t play or they don’t play enough or they’re AAU coach or parents are telling them they should be starting. All those things happen, but I think for us having more depth will make us better because I think you can play better for 32 minutes versus I don’t think you’re going to play every possession when you’re playing for 38. I think that’s just human nature.”

Here is what Barnes has said about the rest of UA’s recruiting class.

On 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 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 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 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.”