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Former Arizona forward Trinity Baptiste is excelling overseas by being open to new adventures

Basketball is taking former Arizona forward Trinity Baptiste around the world. She’s loving every minute of it.
Photo provided by Trinity Baptiste

Her journey to Arizona was a winding one, and it didn’t start out like she had hoped. Former Wildcat forward Trinity Baptiste started her college career in 2016 at Sam Houston State.

“I don’t talk about it much, but people who know me know,” she said about her time in Huntsville, Texas.

You can get to know a lot about Baptiste from the way she has navigated her college and professional careers. She spent five years in college, attending four different schools. Since leaving Arizona after the 2021 season, she’s played in five different countries plus attending the Indiana Fever’s training camp prior to the WNBA’s 2021 season. To add to that, she just became a naturalized citizen of Lebanon and will represent that country in international competition.

She’s been successful at each stop of her pro career, averaging over 18 points and 7 rebounds at each stop except for her rookie season in Russia. It doesn’t surprise Arizona head coach Adia Barnes because of how quickly Baptiste fit in when she joined the Wildcats.

“She likes to learn new things,” Barnes said. “She’s curious about things. She asks questions.”

An injury kept Baptiste out of her freshman season at Sam Houston State, and she was ready to make a move after that. She returned closer to home to attend Northwest Florida State College, a junior college in her native state that is a power on the NJCAA Division I level. She was on the postseason All-Tournament team that season.

One strong year with the Lady Raiders and she was off to play NCAA Division I once again. She stood out as the sixth woman for the Virginia Tech Hokies for two years. Then it was time to move on a third time.

Despite saying that she wanted to play closer to home when she transferred from Va Tech, Baptiste was wooed by Barnes to head west and be part of something special. That something special was a run to the national championship game where Arizona fell to Stanford by a score of 54-53.

“That time at Arizona was the best time in my life,” Baptiste said.

Baptiste and her Wildcat teammates, many of whom were also transfers, were able to come together as a team despite the pandemic and all of the difficulties of the 2020-21 season. Putting their egos aside and focusing on the task at hand was crucial.

“We knew our roles,” Baptiste. “Nobody was jealous. I wasn’t supposed to be taking 16 shots. I knew I was coming to a team with Aari [McDonald], Cate [Reese], and Sam [Thomas]. I knew to stay on the floor, I needed to be grabbing rebounds and playing defense, and I was good at those things.”

It’s not always the case that players can put aside their egos. Barnes has learned that over the past two seasons when she has sometimes had difficulty managing those egos. What was different about the team that took Arizona women’s basketball to a place it had never been?

“It started with Coach Adia and her relationship with Aari,” Baptiste said. “The whole staff was so good. Salvo [Coppa], Jackie [Nared-Hairston], and Tamisha [Augustin]. Aari put us on her back.”

The rest of the team did what was asked of them so that McDonald could put them on her back. That meant less of a spotlight for individuals, but everyone got to share in the glory of the program’s first Final Four.

Barnes knows that’s not how a lot of young players look at things. Baptiste was able to see the big picture.

“She cares about winning,” Barnes said. “She’s a selfless person and a great teammate. So, whatever role you put her in, she’s going to accept. She wants to win. So, if you say she has to get 10 rebounds a game, she’s going to work her butt off to do it. If you say you need a point-scorer for us to win, she’s going to do that. If you say she needs to be a great cheerleader and lead the team, she’s going to do that. She’s just like that, and not a lot of people are mature enough to be like that. She gets that. She gets how to be a pro. And I think the ones who last in this career, they’re able to do that.”

It’s something Barnes knows well. She said that she was able to extend her own career by filling roles that needed to be filled. She wanted to play more than she wanted to cling to a dream of being a star.

“I would do whatever the team needed, and it made me a good role player,” Barnes said. “She’s a lot like that.”

Roles change as circumstances change. To stay on the floor as a professional overseas, Baptiste finally had to step into that spotlight. She couldn’t be the sixth woman who brings energy off the bench or the defender who averaged less than nine points per game.

In international leagues, the American players are usually the best on the team. There are also a limited number of those players. In some leagues, there cannot be more than two players who don’t qualify as domestic or community players. The players from outside the community are almost always Americans, and those Americans are expected to score.

“They replace Americans really quickly, so I know I need to be taking more shots,” Baptiste said. “I learned that from the beginning when I was in Russia. You have to keep your stats up.”

Baptiste is able to do that while also enjoying the experience. She’s not just there to play basketball. She’s there to learn about the world.

“I’m seeing things I probably never would have seen without basketball,” Baptiste said.

She said when she gets to a new country, it takes her about three or four days to get over the jet lag. After that, she wants to be out and about. She wants to taste the food, see how the people live, and experience the natural beauty of the country she’s in. Those personality traits help her both on and off the court.

“She’s a connector and somebody you want to play with,” Barnes said. “She’s interested in different people. She’s the type who when she’s with the Lebanese girls, she’s going to go out and eat their food. She’s just different, so you like being around her. A lot of Americans aren’t like that. They go somewhere, stay in the house and watch Netflix. They don’t eat any of [the local] food. They just eat pizza.”

Food is one of the things Baptiste loves most about her globetrotting lifestyle. The beaches aren’t bad, either.

Baptiste said that life in Beirut is treating her well. In addition to the beaches of Lebanon, she enjoys the fact that it’s easy to communicate.

“Everyone here speaks three languages,” Baptiste said. “They speak Arabic, French, and English. So, there’s no problem with communication.”

The path to becoming a naturalized citizen of Lebanon started with making those connections. Her agent presented the opportunity to her. As the daughter of a Haitian father and an American mother, Baptiste already had experience with different cultures. This was one more chance to expand her knowledge of the world.

Americans getting passports from other countries has a long history in women’s basketball. Barnes has had dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy since her playing days, long before she married an Italian man. It all went back to her mother’s maiden name. The team she was playing for at the time found out that her mother was of Italian descent, tracing her lineage back to her great-grandparents, who were born in Italy.

“Whenever they found out what our races or nationalities we’re from, like our grandparents, all these countries would try to recruit us,” Barnes said. “So back in my day, it happened a lot more. Like, Becky Hammon had a Russian passport and played for the Russian team. Everybody was doing it.”

For the players, it wasn’t just an opportunity to play in international competitions like the Olympics. Getting naturalized, especially in a European country, allowed them to make more money and get more job offers. Having a passport from any European country generally meant being accepted as a local player for the purposes of the leagues across the continet, sidestepping the limits on foreign players.

“I was able to make more money and play longer because I had an Italian passport,” Barnes said. “I played as a domestic player. It enabled me to go to Russia and play as a community player. I would have never been good enough to go to Russia as an American.”

Baptiste was able to play in the top Russian league right out of college. She signed with BC Samara, a team that had just been promoted from the second division. While the war in Ukraine forced her to leave before her first season was over, it’s where she learned that she had to change her game if she wanted to stick, especially in the better leagues.

It’s all starting to pay off. After two years of playing on short contracts in various leagues around the world, Baptiste will be taking a step up into one of the best international leagues. She said that after she and her Lebanese teammates are done with their next tournament, she will be headed to Turkey to play in the Women’s Basketball Super League, which is commonly referred to by its Turkish abbreviation KBSL (Kadınlar Basketbol Süper Ligi). It’s an exciting move, although Baptiste did not want to share the name of her future team since her signing has not been formally announced yet.

In the interim, her national team has business to take care of. After our interview on Thursday, she would be preparing for a long trip and more jet lag. She and her teammates would be off to Sydney Australia on Friday morning to take part in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2023 in what is an important tournament for their future classification.

They start off in Group A along with China, Korea, and New Zealand. They need to avoid finishing in last place in the tournament to avoid being relegated to Division B of international competition. Lebanon was promoted to Division A two years ago after winning Division B.

“I just want to win some games,” Baptiste said.

If her past is any indication, she will do whatever is asked of her to try to reach that goal.