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Arizona Wildcats mailbag: On basketball recruiting, soccer and softball transfers, Brandon Williams, James Akinjo, and more

arizona-wildcats-directors-cup-college-sports-trophy-2018-19-standings James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

We are back with another Arizona Wildcats Monday Mailbag! Thank you to everyone who submitted a question. Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @AZDesertSwarm and @RKelapire if you want to participate in the future.

You can also leave your questions in the comment section and we can answer them in a future mailbag.

Sean Coughlin: Did Texas go after Adia Barnes? I know the school got a very accomplished coach to fill its opening, but I imagine her name was mentioned.

No, Barnes never heard from Texas. But she did get some calls from friends/coaching colleagues who wondered if she would be interested in the position. The money could have been tempting since new Texas coach Vic Schaefer is going to be making four times as much as Barnes next season, but Adia has said before that money isn’t what motivates her.

@az_tool: Can we expect any more softball transfers or is the roster pretty much set?

I think the roster is set. Arizona has 23 players now that Dejah Mulipola is returning, which is a doable number.

Sean Coughlin: I don’t understand all the transfers from the women’s soccer program. I like the coach—definitely don’t want to lose him—but is everything OK with the program?

I wouldn’t be too concerned about it.

I spoke with most of the players who transferred—as well as some who did not, so that I could get a fairer assessment of the program—and my takeaway was that it was a bunch of little things that pushed those players away:

Such as...

  • They weren’t playing as much as they’d like, and they didn’t know why.
  • They wanted to play a different position or style.
  • They weren’t satisfied with the way they were coached. One transfer said one coach would tell them to do something one way and another coach would say the opposite.
  • The team was cliquey. A few transfers said there was a big relational gap between the girls who did and didn’t play.
  • They weren’t having as much fun as they hoped. An example: on road trips, when the players aren’t eating meals or training, they are usually required to stay in the hotel. Some programs allow their players to explore whatever city they’re in. Sometimes the Wildcats do excursions as a team—like when they did yoga on the beach in San Diego—but two transfers said they wished there were more of them.
  • One transfer said she always felt nervous at practice because she wasn’t comfortable around the coaching staff, though she wasn’t totally sure why.
  • One senior thought the freshmen were too entitled. (A freshman did transfer because of playing time, so that makes sense.)
  • The seniors had their own problems. Before last season, one senior texted some of the incoming freshmen to tell them to be wary of some of the other seniors. That, another senior said, put them in any early hole when it came to developing team chemistry.

Overall, most of these things are probably pretty prevalent in women’s college sports. To me, it seems like it just wasn’t the right mix of girls, and the coaching staff could have been more proactive/reactive and transparent addressing these issues.

They shouldn’t linger too much though, since half the roster is gone and many of the key returning players are close, having been teammates since their club days.

Three of the seven transfers were starters and/or major contributors, so losing that kind of talent is obviously not ideal. But Coach Amato has always done a great job of maximizing the talent he does have, and the Wildcats still have a pretty strong core—just not a lot of depth unless some of the 12 freshmen contribute immediately.

But Arizona might feel the ramifications of all those transfers more after the 2020 season when it will graduate Jada Talley and Jill Aguilera, its top two scorers.

@andyroche16: With Dylan Smith gone, who’s our best perimeter defender?

If I had to make an early guess (which I do since you asked me for one), I’d say Ben Mathurin. I’m basing that solely on his physical tools since he is 6-foot-6 with long arms and fine athleticism. That means he should be able to guard three or four positions.

Some freshmen can adapt to Arizona’s pack-line system pretty seamlessly. For others, it takes a while. Arizona doesn’t have many options at the 3, so if Mathurin can adjust quickly and defend at a high level, he should find his way into the rotation.

@Kid_Cuda90: Chances Brandon Williams stays at Arizona? 50%?

Well, if we’re connecting the dots, I’d say it’s less than 50%. Sean Miller mentioned every player but Williams in a recent interview, and also said the Wildcats could be adding two more recruits this cycle, which is only possible if they clear another scholarship.

Then Williams said he is definitely playing next season, “but it’s just a matter of where at this point.” So it sounds like two parties that are moving on—or at least bracing for that possibility.

@beardown_UofA_: When do you think Arizona men’s basketball will use their scholarship or maybe even scholarships if Brandon Williams leaves?

I know Arizona is waiting on at least one more international recruit to make a decision, but that’s about it. Surprisingly, they haven’t been connected to any transfers lately.

@paco__sinbad: What happens if Kevin Sumlin doesn’t get 6 wins again this year?

As I said in a previous mailbag, I think six wins would be enough for Sumlin as long as the team is competitive in most of its losses and the young players (Grant Gunnell, Bobby Wolfe, Boobie Curry, etc.) show they are developing.

If Sumlin’s squad doesn’t reach bowl eligibility, it’s hard to justify retaining him. That’d be three losing seasons in three years.

But as @diskplayer13 asked, is it even financially feasible for Arizona to fire him? Sumlin’s buyout reduces from $5 million to $3 million in 2021. In a normal year that would be a pittance, but the coronavirus crisis has put a serious dent in Arizona’s revenues streams, and paying a coach millions of dollars to go away just might not be realistic anymore.

So, for everyone’s sake, let’s hope Arizona wins seven or more games and it doesn’t come down to that.

@ChrisWi11y: Did the postseason shutdown save Miller’s job?

I don’t think so unless Arizona got embarrassed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But it certainly diminished the possibility of a coaching change.

@gmfde83: What are the realistic chances of James Akinjo get an OK to play at the start of the season from the NCAA? 50%? Any cases like him lately that we could use as an example? (I know Baker was different.)

The NCAA has given more and more leeway in these situations over the years, so I tend to believe Akinjo will be good to go for the start of the season. He only appeared in seven games as a sophomore before transferring, and a bunch of other players left Georgetown, which signals a bigger problem within the program.

And per an AP story, the common reasons a player is granted immediate eligibility are: for being run off a team by a coach, egregious behavior by the original school, an injured or ill immediate family member, and an injury or illness to the athlete.

As for an example, Quade Green is a good one. He appeared in nine games for Kentucky in 2018-19 before transferring to Washington. He was originally expected to sit out the fall semester but was granted immediate eligibility, though the reason isn’t totally clear.

@Richieboy_16: Best place for tacos in Tucson?

I’m not a Tucson native, so I’m probably not the person to ask. But I like BK Tacos, even though I usually get Sonoran Hot Dogs there. Tacos Apson is a hidden gem too. I just wish it was closer to where I live.