In early July, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said that she had a plan in the works to bring Arizona women’s basketball’s biggest star back to campus. At the time, it wasn’t a sure thing. Now it appears to be as several reports came out late Tuesday night indicating that Aari McDonald will return to Tucson during the WNBA offseason to fulfill the role of Director of Recruiting Operations.
The news was first reported by Jason Scheer of Wildcat Authority.
It appears that Aari McDonald won't have to go to Europe this year. Instead, she will be Arizona's Director of Recruiting Operations.— Jason Scheer (@jasonscheer) September 7, 2022
Barnes put out a tweet that implied McDonald was on her way back to Tucson on Aug. 21.
Pretty sure this means Aari is not going to Europe this year. Adia told me that she was trying to get Aari back to Tucson in some capacity when I talked to her for this story: https://t.co/PD1J7yx178 https://t.co/8AgQWInzEf— Kim Doss (@KimDoss71) August 22, 2022
Arizona’s last director of recruiting, Kortney Dunbar, left in the offseason to take an on-court coaching role at UIPUI.
Barnes hopes the return of McDonald will have an impact beyond the job of recruiting coordinator. She wants her current players to have a WNBA player around to look up to and emulate.
“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 two months ago. “She would be great. Great for Kailyn (Gilbert), Paris (Clark), Maya (Nnaji), even just Cate (Reese) 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.”
McDonald will only be on campus during the WNBA offseason according to PJ Brown at the Arizona Daily Star. That will leave questions in the summer when a lot of visits and recruiting trips occur. Bett Shelby, who was hired as the Special Assistant to the Head Coach in June, said that she was doing some work in that capacity when she first arrived at Arizona.
“Right now I am helping organize our recruiting,” Shelby said at the end of June. “I’m really hands-on with that. Overseeing our social media. One thing Adia is really passionate about—and I love this about her—is we want to recruit the very best, the nation’s elite student-athletes, to come to Arizona. We want to attract the very best, so I want to help. There’s a lot that goes into recruiting. So I’m helping to oversee that. How we can organize ourselves to be the very best from a social media standpoint, from a staff standpoint, how we’re reaching out to those recruits and their families and their coaches to maximize our effort to be as dynamic as possible.”
McDonald had been unsure if she wanted to try to go overseas and play again this year. Last season, she went to Hungary but left within a few days. For a woman who has often referred to herself as a “homebody,” coming back to familiar territory appeared to be preferable.
For Arizona fans, it means knowing that the player who took the lead in returning the program to respectability before launching it into a national power will be influencing those who can keep it there.