It was an anxious 24 hours for those who follow Arizona women’s basketball. On Friday afternoon, top 100 recruit Lauren Ware posted on social media that she would make her commitment public the folllowing day. On Saturday, it became official that she was planning to head to Tucson next year.
What does that mean for the Wildcats? The answer is, “A lot,” both on the court and off.
Even during the best of the Joan Bonvicini years, getting top recruits was difficult for Arizona women’s basketball. Bonvicini made it work without those top 100 recruits, but no one will deny that competing in today’s Pac-12 is very difficult without them. For a team to move into the top half of a conference that featured three top-10 opponents last year, you have to have the talent.
Adia Barnes and her staff have once again shown that they can get that talent. Ware, who is ranked as the No. 4 post and No. 30 overall player by HoopGurlz, becomes the fourth recruit in Arizona’s last four classes to be ranked in espnW’s top 100. Propects Nation has her as the No. 4 post and No. 13 overall player.
On the basketball court
Ware is currently rehabbing an ACL tear that she suffered playing volleyball in July. That recovery process generally takes at least six months, but can last longer. If she heals on a typical timeline, she should be ready for summer practice in 2020.
On Saturday, she told the Bismark Tribune that the rehab is proceeding more quickly than she expected. The Tribune’s Scooter Pursley reported that she wore a brace during the announcement, but was not on crutches.
When she gets to Tucson, what will her role be? Arizona’s starting frontcourt will likely feature senior Dominique McBryde and sophomore Cate Reese this year, just as it did last season. Sophomore Semaj Smith is the other returning post player, and should see increased time this year.
The Wildcats also brought in the frontcourt duo of Sevval Gül from Turkey and Birna Benonysdottir from Iceland this season. Gül is especially intriguing, because she comes from one of the top clubs in Europe.
With McBryde gone after this season, Ware will have a year to learn behind Smith, Gül and Benonysdottir before she’s asked to take too much on herself. Considering her injury and the competition level in the Pac-12, that won’t be the worst thing in the world for her.
Last season, Ware averaged 17.3 points per game to go along with 11.1 rebounds, 4.6 blocks and 2.1 assists. The scoring will be nice, but Arizona is especially in need of rebounding.
Point guard Aari McDonald was the second-leading rebounder on last year’s team behind Reese. Reese and McDonald were the only two players on the team to secure more than 5 rebounds per game, and neither of them averaged more than 6.8.
Arizona is in need of a frontcourt that can keep opponents off the boards. Ware has shown the potential to do that.
The sole drawback is that Arizona women’s basketball will be without Ware during the early part of the season depending on how far volleyball progresses in the postseason. That is something Barnes is willing to deal with.
On the recruiting trail
Beyond what it means on the court, the boost on the recruiting trail is equally important for the Wildcats. Great players tend to want to play with great players. As the cliché goes, success breeds success. Arizona’s recruiting success has been building each year since Barnes returned to Tucson.
Sam Thomas was the first top 100 player to commit to Arizona under Barnes. As the No. 17 wing and No. 92 player in 2017, it was a big get for a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005. As Barnes has said many times, Thomas took a chance based only on what she was told by the coaches. It has paid off for both parties.
The next year, it was even better. The first female McDonald’s All-American, Reese, anchored a class that featured two top-100 players—Reese at No. 12 and Smith at No. 52.
But there’s always doubt. It snuck back in when the 2019 class featured all international players. There were numerous questions that Barnes had to address.
Would they all come, especially after the previous year when highly-touted Italian Valeria Trucco opted to stay home and go pro? Those questions were put to rest when all five players showed up.
Were they as good as domestic players? Those who follow international youth basketball were especially high on Helena Pueyo, but U.S. recruiting services don’t rank international players with any consistency. The unknown can make fans anxious.
The play of the freshman class will answer the questions about their abiltiies, but the commitment of Ware reassures the fan base that Barnes and her staff can recruit highly-regarded players domestically. They can win battles against the increased competition that there tends to be for top U.S. players—and they can even pull players from across the country.
Will this lead to more recruiting victories this season? The Wildcats certainly hope so. Arizona figures in the top 5 for guard Anaya Boyd and the top 15 for point guard Leilani Kapinus. ESPN also has Arizona in the mix for forward Ugonne Onyiah.
Kapinus is the No. 5 point guard and No. 10 overall player in the class. Boyd comes in as the No. 8 guard and No. 29 overall player. Onyiah is the No. 12 forward and No. 51 overall player.
Arizona needs to folllow up their WNIT title with another season of 20-plus wins to prove that they’re really back, but seeing other top players on the roster certainly won’t hurt when Barnes and her staff walk into gyms and living rooms.
On the volleyball court
Ware’s volleyball prowess isn’t talked about as much as her basketball skills, but she is ranked No. 50 in Prep Volleyball’s Senior Aces. That would make her the highest-ranked Arizona recruit since junior Paige Whipple arrived on campus.
Ware was also the North Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year last volleyball season. She has won the award for basketball twice. She won’t get to follow up on those awards this year due to her injury, but her junior season gave a glimpse into her promise in both sports.
Ware had 586 kills and 86 blocks last season. She added 187 digs and 48 aces to that, showing skill around the court. Her team went 34-5 on the way to their third straight state title.
Although basketball may have been what gets Ware the most press, it may actually have been volleyball that tipped the scales in Arizona’s favor. The Arizona Daily Star reported that Dave Rubio flew to Bismark in July to meet with Ware and her family shortly before her injury. What he had to offer that some of the other schools might not is a need at her position.
Ware played middle blocker in high school and club ball. She is listed as anywhere from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-5 depending on the source, which gives her enough size to play the position in college. At Arizona, she has a clear opportunity.
After losing junior Candice Denny to transfer in the off-season, the Wildcats currently have three middle blockers on the roster. The trio is led by senior Devyn Cross. Redshirt junior Shardonee Hayes and sophomore Zyonna Fellows round out the position. With the reputation Rubio has for skill development and Ware’s size, she could be an important piece for the volleyball team sooner rather than later.
The collaboration of Rubio and Barnes certainly played into the decision.
“It just felt like the best fit for me,” Ware told the Bismark Tribune. “My relationship with the coaches and players helped me make my decision, and the way the coaches work together was a big deal to me playing both sports.”