If there was a theme for Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day on Tuesday, it was “blue collar.” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes got it started. What did she, Helena Pueyo, and Esmery Martinez have to say about what to expect this year, why the two fifth-year players came back to school, the new faces on the court?
On blue-collar players
Adia Barnes: I know the style that I want to play. So getting those players that are selfless, that are gym rats, those are hard to find. Toughness, the mentality, all those things, and they want to be great teammates. I was a blue-collar player that wasn’t that talented, but I was a very good teammate, and I would have done everything. If Joan [Bonvicini] would have said run through a wall, I would’ve ran through a wall.
You want those kind of players, and we have that and we went to a championship. When you’re recruiting you’re looking for all those small things.
On why they came back to Arizona instead of going pro
Helena Pueyo: For me, I want to win games. I want to finish strong here in the program. I mean, Adia was a huge part for me to come back. Adia makes me feel like home there, so I just want to come back, win games, and finish really strong.
Esmery Martinez: For me, I think I didn’t give enough last year, and I think I could do better, and I feel I needed another opportunity. And for school, too. That’s why I’m coming back because I want to go have my degree, and I made it.
On playing for their national teams
Esmery Martinez: I’m proud because I didn’t play for my national team for five years because I came here to the United States. So I think my family, my people back home, they were happy and glad for me to represent my country. For me, it was good for me because it was good for me to be in shape, too, and to learn new stuff.
Helena Pueyo: I’ve been playing more 3-on-3 this past summer, and that really helped me a lot because it’s a really fast game. You’ve got to make really fast decisions through the games. That really helped me a lot.
Adia Barnes: Helena and Esmery are going to be one of the most important things. We are going to go as they go. No pressure on them over there, but we need them to have great seasons, and they will. But we also need strong leaders in the locker room and they will do that.
I think for them it’s been really fun to watch. They love leading the type of freshmen we have. When you have freshmen that are hungry, that are great people, and they are in the gym and want to get better, I think that makes their job easier.
But we’re going to expect a lot from Helena and Esmery and being aggressive on the floor. They’re going to put us on their backs, and I think they’re excited for the challenge.
They know we’re young, but they’ve also embraced that they have to be leaders in every sense of the word, so I’m excited for that. I think they are, too.
Esmery Martinez: Well, for me, it’s complicated to be a leader because to lead you’ve got to have everything. But I’m just trying to do the best that I can and trying to work hard so that the freshmen can see I’m going to work hard, and they can see a good leader...
I’m focused this year to be the best leader, and I’m excited. I’m excited to see all the young players. I’m just happy. I feel really comfortable playing with them. I feel like they’re really good. They’re tough.
Helena Pueyo: For me, I think talking about leadership, I think having these four years playing in this conference, I think all the experience from that I can take and bring it to my new teammates.
Also, I think I’m the only one from the National Championship game, so I think all that experience and like helping them and teaching them how to play in our system, I think that will be a really good part.
On fan support
Adia Barnes: They just love basketball in Tucson. It helped winning some games along the way and having some success. But they just love basketball in Tucson. I think our team and program has a really good time connecting with the fans. We were No. 1 in attendance in the Pac-12, so I’m very proud of that.
On expectations and the future
Adia Barnes: It’s great because now there’s more tradition and there’s higher expectations, and there’s now the challenge of trying to get over the hump how do you get to that next level and get to where you win a championship. We were one basket away.
I think these players are really showing the freshmen what it’s about, and we can really win big time with these freshmen in a couple years.
I think with these seniors, who they are on the court, off the court, in the classroom is really positive, so I’m just excited, and I think they want to go out with a bang. They want this year to be special, and then they’re both going to go on and play pro and hopefully in the WNBA, so I’m excited about that.
On the move to the Big 12
Adia Barnes: That’s not even a thought. My focus is this year, these great young women. I have some super seniors. It’s probably some of the best Pac-12 basketball in history. I think I’m so excited about that. You don’t even look ahead because the main thing is to win now and live in the present.