The summer is supposed to be a relatively quiet time for college sports. This summer isn’t a regular summer, though.
Even before UCLA and USC dropped their bomb on the Pac-12 last week, Adia Barnes and Arizona women’s basketball were very busy. From hiring to recruiting to welcoming in most of the team for summer practice to seeing former Wildcats succeed in the professional ranks, it’s been a busy month or so.
Bringing Bett Shelby to the West
Bett Shelby is an accomplished coach. She’s been in the business for over 15 years and has coached for some great programs, including Maryland. What does it take to get a coach to travel to a completely new part of the country and give up on-court coaching to take an administrative role?
Barnes found out when she lured Shelby to Tucson to take on the role of Special Assistant to the Head Coach. It’s a title that has become popular of late in the Arizona athletic department, but what does it mean?
“That’s a great question,” Shelby said. “I just want to do anything I can to take a load off Adia and help the program any way I can. I want to help the players be their very best and help the program win. I think that can encompass a lot. And I think with my experience, you know, I’ve done a lot—and I don’t mean that in a cocky way. I’ve worked in a lot of roles in a lot of different conferences—from assistant coach, recruiting coordinator, associate head coach—so I’ve worn a lot of different hats and I just want to help the program be successful and win championships.”
Shelby, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, attended school in her home state and had spent her entire career coaching back East. Her parents, sister, and brother-in-law are still in Charlotte. She wasn’t afraid to take the plunge and move to Arizona, though. She’s been in town for about two weeks and is slowly getting acclimated.
“I’ve been to some great restaurants,” Shelby said. “Done a little shopping. Trying to get out and about and see the areas. I love it here. The people are amazing, very friendly. Everything revolves around the university and I love that.”
Her role will focus on recruiting for now in a “big picture” way, according to Barnes. But both Shelby and Barnes mentioned possible NCAA changes that could allow her to return to the court eventually.
“She’s been a longtime coach and she definitely wants to do it,” Barnes said. “But I felt like a lot of her strengths were kind of what we need in our office. And she’s not going to be in a non-coaching position forever, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to get her while we can.”
Even if Shelby won’t be an on-court coach right now, that experience is important to Barnes. It’s not just that Shelby has a lot of coaching experience, but that she has done it at a high level. That kind of support was something Barnes felt she could use.
“I felt different,” Barnes said. “I felt like my role has really changed and my responsibilities have changed since I got the job. I think there’s a lot more things now. So I felt like I needed a lot more support in the sense that I needed people that have been to this level and one of the highest levels. I think that when you’ve never done it, you don’t know what it looks like.”
Esmery Martinez: Help on the scoreboard and the glass
Another thing Shelby brings to Arizona is a strong familiarity with new Wildcat Esmery Martinez. Like the new Wildcat coach, the transfer spent her last three years at West Virginia.
The picture both Barnes and Shelby painted of Martinez was one of versatility, a player who will help Arizona on both offense and the boards. Those are things that the Wildcats need to add to their already strong defense.
“Esmery’s an exciting player to watch,” Shelby said. “She can score the basketball and she can defend, but I think her biggest attribute and what really makes her special is her ability to rebound the basketball. She’s probably one of the best, if not the best, rebounders I’ve ever coached. She just knows where the ball is coming off the rim and she goes and gets it.”
After spending the last few years trying to get her team more balanced on offense, Barnes is looking forward to what Martinez brings on the offensive end of the court.
“She’s taller than you think...like 6-2,” Barnes said. “The way she moves...like a guard. Can dribble pretty well, like handle it enough to get by people. Has a good 3-point shot and has a really good knack for the ball. Like, for offensive rebounding, a really good quick hop. And I think this brings us a player that can do it from outside consistently.”
Cate Reese continues rehab
While most of the Wildcats are now in Tucson, fifth-year senior Cate Reese has been away while she recovers from the shoulder injury she suffered late last season.
“She’s just returning now because she’s hurt,” Barnes said. “Couldn’t do basketball workouts. She’s coming along great. Her rehab is good. And the mobility is good. It’s just now (taking) the time (to heal). She’ll get stronger, but she’s going to be ready (for the season). And she’s looking good. There’s no limitations right now. It’s just progressing with the rehab.”
Keeping Lauren Ware on the hardcourt
Lauren Ware spent part of the spring practicing and playing in a tournament with the Arizona volleyball team. While Barnes did not stand in her way, she was a bit worried that Ware would choose to play both sports again as she had originally planned when committing to the Wildcats.
“I was worried that she played both because I felt like if she played both, she was going to kind of be just good at both not great,” Barnes said. “ I let her take her time...I want it to be her own decision.”
Ultimately, the decision was to stick to basketball only.
Arizona has already made three hires this offseason. In addition to Shelby, Barnes added a new position focused on social media content creation and replaced her longtime director of basketball operations, Jessika Carrington, who took a similar position at North Carolina. She’s not done yet, though.
Barnes has a particular person in mind. She wants to bring Aari McDonald back to Tucson in some capacity. What that would be is still up in the air, but it’s something that Barnes thinks could help both McDonald and the program.
“She wants to maybe explore getting into coaching,” Barnes said. “So we’re talking about that right now. It’s not for sure, but we’re talking about that. Because I’d love one day when she’s not playing to hire her as a coach.”
In the interim, Barnes would love to have McDonald around her current team.
“Just imagine if you have a WNBA player around every day working out, training, and just to talk to and mentor the players,” Barnes said. “She would be great. Great for Kailyn (Gilbert), Paris (Clark), Maya (Nnaji), even just Cate and those guys. Say, like, ‘hey, this is what it takes for the WNBA.’ I can say it until I’m blue in the face, but when you hear from a player, it sounds different. It’s received differently.”
On the future of the Pac-12
Being part of the Pac-12 is important to Barnes. It’s what she knows. It’s what she loves. The news of UCLA and USC’s departure possibly destroying the conference didn’t sit well with her.
Barnes has been focused on recruiting, so she was not fully aware of the rumors and possibilities that had been bandied about on social media and in the traditional press. After discussing some of them, she was left with the emotional bond she has with the league.
“For me, it’s so hard because I’m so biased to the Pac-12,” Barnes said. “Because I grew up in the Pac-12 and I wanted to be in the Pac. I can’t even imagine.”