Two of the current starters for the Arizona Wildcats are projected to be among the best at their position. Everyone thinks the team will be one of the best 10 in the nation this year. But what happens next season?
The answer to that got a little clearer this week as head coach Adia Barnes and her staff saw the fruits of their recruiting labor sign national letters of intent. The Wildcats signed two Top 100 domestic high school players and a decorated international to add ESPN’s No. 15 class to their arsenal.
That international, Anna Gret Asi, will fill a big need for Arizona. While the NCAA has granted all winter athletes an extra year of eligibility regardless of how much they play in 2020-21, there’s little doubt that the Wildcats will need to replace Aari McDonald next season. After foregoing the WNBA draft last year, it would be difficult to see the star guard come back yet again, especially after seeing the pro league hold a successful season this summer.
That means that the Wildcats will likely be searching for their point guard of the future. While junior Shaina Pellington, sophomore Mara Mote and freshman Derin Erdogan can all play the position, it never hurts to have another ball-handler. It will be even more vital after the departure of McDonald.
Asi has considerable experience in her native Estonia and on the international scene. She was the MVP of the 18th Basketball Without Borders Europe camp which was held in Riga, Latvia in July, 2019.
Asi is rated the highest of Arizona’s three signees with ESPN giving her 4.5 stars under the new system implemented by Premier Basketball when they took over the women’s recruiting rankings this year. International players are still not ranked alongside domestic players, however.
Also in the back court, four-star shooting guard Madison Conner of Perry High in Gilbert, Ariz. was the first 2021 recruit to commit to the Wildcats. Ranked No. 71 overall by ESPN, the No. 29 guard in the class was described as a “skilled guard (who) manufactures shots, knocks down mid-range jumpers to the arc; brings a smooth stroke, scorer’s mentality to the back court; executes in half-court game; unselfish persona, teammate,” by Dan Olson of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, which formerly provided recruiting rankings for ESPN HoopGurlz.
Shane Laflin wrote in his breakdown of the 2021 classes that Conner “is a fundamental shooter with extreme confidence on the floor.” With the highly-rated front court recruits Arizona will have in two straight classes, having someone who can spread the floor will continue to be important and Conner can do that.
Conner and Asi are joined by the No. 100 recruit, Aaronette Vonleh. The four-star forward from West Linn (Ore.) High School and the Cal Stars travel team brings size to the class.
The No. 9 forward is the younger sister of NBA player Noah Vonleh, but that’s not her most important recommendation for Arizona fans. She’s a former teammate of Arizona guard Bendu Yeaney, who was ruled immediately eligible this season after transferring from Indiana.
When Vonleh attended Team USA trials in May of last year, Olson noted that she was a “physical power-post with interior footwork (who) scores through defenders in the paint; deceptively agile in transition game; an imposing defensive menace in the block; rebounder and defender with emerging interior game.”
Vonleh was rated a five-star prospect and the No. 38 player in the class when she committed to Arizona, but took a drop when the new organization took over the ESPN rankings. That shouldn’t concern Wildcat fans too much, especially since chances to evaluate players were limited this year.
Current senior Sam Thomas was Arizona’s first Top 100 recruit under Barnes, coming in at No. 92 in the 2017 class. She has been a crucial starter every year in Tucson, one of the top defenders in the league and someone who can fill every box on a stat sheet.
Like Thomas, Vonleh fills an area of crucial need for the Wildcats.
Arizona has struggled rebounding in recent years, and not just against Pac-12 competition. Vonleh brings that coveted skill to the table. In his ESPN class rankings, Laflin called her a “powerful post player,” which is definitely something the program can use.