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Assistant coaching changes upcoming for Arizona women’s basketball

Arizona v New Mexico Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

There are a few programs where assistant coaches stay around for years. In some cases, it’s because the head coach is married to an assistant. In others, it’s because of a long-term professional relationship between the boss and an assistant. Turnover is not uncommon, though, as Arizona has discovered the past several years.

The Wildcats have one long-term assistant in Salvo Coppa, the husband of head coach Adia Barnes. The other two assistant positions have seen a number of coaches come and go. That will be the case again this year as first noted by Jason Scheer of Wildcat Authority. Both Ashley Davis and Erin Grant have been removed from the coaching roster and the jobs posted on Arizona’s job recruiting website.

Davis and Grant both came to Arizona two years ago. Grant was hired first, joining the staff along with April Phillips. When Phillips jumped ship to go to Texas a couple of months later, Davis came aboard.

Grant was hired in April 2021 after spending two seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at USC under retired coach Mark Trakh. She was a point guard at Texas Tech from 2002-06, earning Big 12 co-Freshman of the Year for the 2002-03 season. She was drafted in the 2006 WNBA Draft and spent several seasons playing professionally overseas.

Davis was hired in June 2021 when Phillips left Arizona for the second time in two years. Davis came to Tucson from Oklahoma State, where she spent six years serving as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator on the staff of former Cowgirls coach Jim Littell.

Before joining Littell’s staff, Davis spent two years at North Texas and four years at Georgetown. Her final season at UNT was as associate head coach.

A history of assistant coaches

Except for her husband, Barnes has had to hire assistant coaches at least every two years since she took over the program in April 2016. Her first staff was completed by associate head coach Sunny Smallwood and assistant coach Kelly Rae Finley. Smallwood was a long-time college assistant coach with almost 30 years in the business when she was hired while Finley had spent a couple of decades in the industry, too.

Morgan Valley, who had coached with Barnes at Washington, took over for Finley in Barnes’ second season. The following season, Smallwood was gone, and Phillips started her first brief stint at Arizona.

Phillips became an assistant coach at California after one season at Arizona. Valley took the head coaching position at Hartford after two seasons in Tucson. Those moves brought Jackie Nared Hairston and Tamisha Augustin to town in April 2019.

In 2021, Nared Hairston returned to Oregon, one of the three Pac-12 programs she had worked at prior to coming to Arizona. Augustin came at the same time as Nared Hairston and left at the same time.

What’s next?

With Arizona in need of a lot from the portal, it’s not a good time to be down to just two coaches on staff. Fortunately for Arizona, Bett Shelby is still on the staff. While Shelby is listed as the special assistant to the head coach, she has years of on-court coaching and recruiting experience, including at programs like Maryland.

When she hired Shelby last summer, Barnes said that her new assistant had every desire to be back on the court; she was not meant to be in an administrative position permanently. At the time, Barnes expected the NCAA to change the rules on the number of coaches programs can have directly involved with on-court coaching. While those changes still have not come through, if Shelby does have an interest in returning to the court, it would be an opportune moment for her to do so at least until Barnes can fill the open positions.

Shelby last coached at West Virginia. She was on the staff when Esmery Martinez played there.

The Wildcats also still have Aari McDonald on the coaching staff as the recruiting coordinator. However, McDonald will be in training camp for the upcoming WNBA season soon. The draft is set for Apr. 10 and the season begins on May 19.