As the Arizona Wildcats enter Senior Day on Sunday, head women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes is already looking ahead to her next big recruiting pitch—to her seniors.
Barnes has three players who could come back next year because of the free year granted to winter athletes by the NCAA. Along with four-year stalwart Sam Thomas and all-everything Aari McDonald is grad transfer Trinity Baptiste, who has made an impact both on and off the court in her lone year at Arizona.
“Let me say first, from the moment Coach Adia found out that they’re giving everyone an extra year she’s been recruiting me,” Baptiste said.
Baptiste may be in for quite the sales pitch after the season. Barnes thinks she hasn’t even started trying to sell her seniors on coming back.
“Don’t think I won’t be recruiting these kids at the end of the year,” Barnes said. “Not right now. I’m not talking about it, but I’ll be recruiting my three top recruits.... I don’t know about Aari, because I don’t know if she wants to come back again, but I’m going to still try. So Aari, Sam and Trinity. Those are my three top recruits right now.”
It won’t be the first time Barnes has succeeded in convincing Baptiste to do something unexpected. Just under a year ago, Baptiste was getting ready to leave Virginia Tech. Her well-known plans were to head to someplace closer to her home in Tampa, Fla. So, it was quite the shock when she committed sight unseen to Arizona.
It took some convincing. Barnes looked at it like building a relationship. When things didn’t immediately go as she expected, she felt like Baptiste had broken up with her.
It all worked out in the end for both parties.
“I love her,” Barnes said. “I try to find kids like her. I really wish I’d had her for four years. There’s nothing I question about her. She’s more mature. So that’s a given because she’s a fifth year, but she works her butt off in every aspect. She works on her game. She studies with film. All the things she asked me during that recruiting process, I was kind of surprised. I was calling the other coaches like, ‘how come no one else does this?’”
Baptiste has been a starter since she stepped foot on campus. She came with the reputation as a rebounder, but insisted that she was more than that. Over the course of the season, she has showed herself to be a well-rounded player.
Baptiste is third on the team in both scoring (8.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.6 rpg). Of those players who have taken at least 100 shots, she ranks behind only Cate Reese in field goal percentage at 44.3.
Those numbers are down from the stats she put up during her final season at Virginia Tech when she won the ACC Sixth Player of the Year award. Her junior season, she averaged double figures over most of the first 75 percent of the season, ending the year at 9.5 ppg.
On the boards, she was good for 6.4 rpg over the season. Like her scoring, that took a dip towards the end of the year. Through much of the ACC season, she had been corralling at least seven boards per game.
That indicates that it’s within her ability to improve on her numbers at Arizona, especially when getting starter minutes.
The Wildcats will be looking to make up for a lot of lost production if McDonald departs for the WNBA as expected. Baptiste could help with that, but she’s still keeping her options open and her eyes on the task at hand for now.
“Honestly, I’m not trying to get distracted or think about next year,” Baptiste said. “I just live in the moment. But I haven’t made a decision yes or no if I’m coming back next year. I just want to finish out the season. Make a long run in the tournament and see how far we can go this year. And then we’ll talk about it after the game. The last game we play.”
Senior day festivities
Arizona allowed players’ families to attend the first game of the season against NAU back in November. Since then, the only attendees have been the teams, the people responsible for running the game and the media.
That wasn’t just to keep things safe during game time. Barnes was concerned that families would travel to Tucson and the players would spend extended periods with them without masks in confined spaces. She felt families would be less likely to come to town if they couldn’t attend the games.
As senior day approached, exceptions were made to that. The three Wildcat seniors were allowed to bring their families to both games this weekend. The families of Thomas and McDonald attended the victory over Washington State on Friday.