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Arizona offered more than basketball to 3 transfers

Forward Sali Kourouma is one of three transfers who joined Arizona women’s basketball this offseason
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

When players choose to transfer, the assumption is that they are looking for playing time. For female athletes, that’s not even in the top two reasons cited in the latest NCAA Student-Athlete Well-Being Study. The three transfers who joined Arizona women’s basketball this offseason backed up the idea that women are often looking for things beyond the court when they make the decision to leave their schools for another program.

Sali Kourouma, Isis Beh, and Courtney Blakely all came to Tucson looking for support of some kind. Family-like environments, familiarity, and academic support were things they found at Arizona that they felt they needed.

Kourouma is a long way from home. The native of Kati, Mali had success in both the juco ranks and at Arkansas Little-Rock, where she was the OVC Player of the Year last season. ESPN put her at No. 25 in its preseason list of impact transfers. She didn’t necessarily come to Arizona looking for accolades, though.

“I feel like it’s like a family,” Kourouma said. “They treat everyone like their own child, so that’s why I chose here.”

That feeling of trusting the people around her attracted Beh, as well. The post player has had a tough time landing in a spot where she could find continuity and support. After starting her career at UNLV, she transferred to a juco in her home state of Utah.

Beh suffered a broken femur at the junior college and left for West Virginia the next season. That season was spent with one coaching staff. Last year, she played under another staff, and she was facing having to adapt to a third staff at WVU if she stayed this season. Someone held out a lifeline to her for the second time in her college career. That person was assistant coach Bett Shelby, who had been on the staff that initially recruited her to Morgantown.

“She helped me get out of a tough situation at my juco and she was great to me at West Virginia,” Beh said. “So, I knew I could trust her, and I was way closer to home.”

Basketball wasn’t the only thing at the top of Blakely’s list, either. While Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was a big reason she became a Wildcat, that’s not the reason she cited for leaving Middle Tennessee State. Instead, the speedy guard came looking for the kind of support offered to athletes away from competition.

“What Arizona offers is really good academic support,” Blakely said. “So, I’m always in meetings or sessions with counselors and everything like that. So, that was really the biggest thing for me.”

When Barnes went to the portal, she wasn’t looking for the top starters available. She said she could have brought in some older players who would play in front of her freshmen before leaving next year. Instead, she wanted toughness, defensive potential, and the possibility of continuity. She got all three from the trio of experienced newcomers.

“If you look, everybody who transferred [to Arizona], they all have a couple years,” Barnes said. “I didn’t take any fifth years this year. Even if it is their fifth year, they have another year. So, I wanted to make sure that I kept people for a couple of years so I see the improvement. A lot of times, the fifth years, it’s only six months. So, you have to make sure it’s the right fit and the perfect fit for your situation because it’s really, their focus is really a couple months and go pro.”