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Report: Esmery Martinez to return to Arizona women’s basketball

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

When the WNBA sent out its first list of players who had renounced their eligibility to enter the 2023 draft on Mar. 28, there was a surprise name on the list. Arizona forward Esmery Martinez had entered her name into the draft, renouncing her final year of eligibility. In an Instagram post later the same day, Martinez announced that she was also in the transfer portal but might still return to Arizona for her fifth and final year of college basketball.

A day before the deadline to remove her name from the draft, the Arizona Daily Star is reporting that Martinez will return to Arizona. According to the Star’s report, she has removed her name from the transfer portal and is in the process of rescinding her entry into the draft. Players are required to remove their names five days before the draft. This year, the draft falls on Apr. 10.

The news is good for Arizona, which will now have two returning fifth-year seniors with Martinez and guard Helena Pueyo both back in the fold. They will join forwards Maya Nnaji and Montaya Dew as well as guard Kailyn Gilbert. The program is also bringing in freshmen Breya Cunningham and Jada Williams, both of whom just played in the McDonald’s All-American game.

That still leaves the team with a lot of holes to fill via the transfer portal. Last season, head coach Adia Barnes said that the 15-player roster she had in 2021-22 was too large and left too many people unhappy. However, when she went down to 12 last season, the team had so many early injuries that she didn’t have enough to practice at times. When post Lauren Ware was lost for the year, they had just 11 players and were very thin inside.

Barnes has said that she thinks 13 players might be the sweet spot for roster construction. If she opts to go with that number, she needs to get six players from the portal.

The portal is already filling with talent. According to James Crepea of the Oregonian, one of the latest entries is Cunningham’s former high school teammate Te-Hina Paopao of Oregon.

Martinez gives Arizona four players who can play in the frontcourt next year, although Dew is often referred to as a wing. The senior averaged nearly a double-double last season in her first year as a Wildcat with 10.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. A second year will give her more time to adapt to the way the Pac-12 is officiated, as fouls were her biggest challenge last season.