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Recruiting heats up as Arizona women’s basketball awaits its first 2024 commit

FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup 2023 Photo by Aldara Zarraoa/Getty Images

The early signing period for women’s basketball begins on Nov. 8 and Arizona still has no known commits. By this time last year, all three of Arizona’s commits were on board with Jada Williams being the last one to pledge her name on Aug. 1 when she flipped from UCLA.

The bare cupboard may finally get stocked soon as recruiting heats up for Adia Barnes and her staff. This is the time of finalist lists, official visits, and even new offers. Who are the Wildcats looking at—and who is looking at them?

Sira Thienou takes an official visit and releases her top 5

Sira Thienou had a huge tournament at the 2023 U19 Women’s World Cup for Mali in July. After her big outing in Spain, she’s looking for where she will spend the next part of her basketball career and Arizona is definitely in the running.

Thienou took an official visit to campus this past weekend, as revealed by Maya Nnaji’s Instagram story.

Sira Thienou on her official visit to Arizona. Screenshot of the Instagram story of Arizona forward Maya Nnaji.
Screenshot taken by Kim Doss on Sept. 9, 2023

The visit must have impressed her. On Sunday evening, Thienou released her final five. They consist of Arizona, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Miami.

Sira Thienou releases her top five schools via her Instagram story.
Screenshot taken by Kim Doss on Sept. 10, 2023.

Thienou averaged 15.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game in her team’s seven contests at the U19 FIBA WWC. She scored at least 15 points in all but one game while shooting 39.1 percent from the floor and averaging 27.4 minutes. Her effort helped Mali to a fifth-place finish.

Thienou didn’t rack up her big numbers against weak teams. Mali played the gold medalists from the U.S., the Canadian bronze medalists, and sixth-place Japan. Her efforts against Japan and Lithuania during the classification games helped the team secure their fifth-place finish.

Thienou’s one shortcoming in Madrid was 3-point shooting. She connected on just 17.9 percent of her long-distance shots while launching four of them per game.

If she opts for UA, the 6-foot-3 wing would be the second Malian to commit to the program in as many years. She would join Sali Kourouma, who has represented their country since 2015. Thienou doesn’t spend her time in Mali these days, though. Like Kourouma, she has been in the U.S. for some time.

Thienou was identified as an elite basketball player while she was still in Africa. At 16, she attended the NBA Academy Women’s Program. The next year, she and Senegalese player Aminata Tal were awarded scholarships to the Sports for Education and Economic Development Project as a result of their play and leadership. The pair were the first female players to receive scholarships to the program.

The SEED Project provides “high-level basketball training, tutoring, ESL training, life-skills development and academic and career guidance” according to the NBA’s press release. It is meant to help the players prepare for the next steps in their athletic and academic pursuits.

Tal, who was already 18 when she began at the SEED Academy, used it to land a spot at Chicago State before going on to play for Walters State Community College. Thienou’s options are considerably better after moving to the U.S. to play high school basketball.

She spent last year playing at Shining Star Sports Academy in Petersburg, Virg. Her numbers were similar to those she contributed in Madrid, suggesting that she has been consistent regardless of competition. Thienou averaged 14.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.3 BPG.

Thienou is not ranked in the top 100 by ESPN HoopGurlz or the top 60 by Prospects Nation. However, Prospects Nation has her in its Elite 150 and rates her as a four-star recruit.

“And you can’t talk about Cap City without mentioning Sira Theinou who puts a ton of pressure on you in transition and as a slashing scorer in the halfcourt,” wrote Chris Hansen of Prospects Nation.

That sounds familiar

A familiar name just landed an offer from Arizona. Four-star guard Izela Arenas reportedly landed an offer from the Wildcats in August. From the reports at WBB Blog, Arenas’ recruiting heated up this summer with several schools offering her. That’s likely the result of her efforts at the Nike Nationals.

Why might the last school that offered possibly be a frontrunner? The name Arenas isn’t just a coincidence. This Arenas is the daughter of Wildcat great Gilbert Arenas.

Izela Arenas is ranked No. 94 by ESPN HoopGurlz. Prospects Nation has her among its Elite 150. She is rated a four-star prospect by both. Catching the attention of someone like Shaquille O’Neal isn’t the worst thing in the world, either.

Izela Arenas teamed up with the daughter of another former NBA player—Zach Randolph’s daughter Mackenly Randolph—and 2023 No. 1 recruit Juju Watkins at Sierra Canyon. This year Watkins has moved on but the Trailblazers are still ranked No. 6 by MaxPreps ahead of the 2023-24 season.

Other finalists?

Arizona has ended up on the final lists of several top players. Finalist lists can be deceiving. In some cases, players put programs that didn’t offer them or are no longer pursuing them on the lists, especially if they are high-profile programs. However, even in cases where a program has yet to offer a player, its inclusion can indicate what programs that player is waiting for.

In addition to Thienou, the Wildcats have made the finalists lists of three top 100 recruits: No. 7 Justice Carlton, No. 8 Jordan Lee, and No. 53 Vivian Iwuchukwu. All three released their lists over the summer.

Carlton is a five-star forward who also has Texas, South Carolina, Connecticut, and LSU on her list. While she has dropped a couple of spots since she released her finalists, the 6-foot-2 recruit still has a grade of 97 according the ESPN’s scouts. She was the first of the trio to release her list, posting it to social media at the end of May.

Iwuchukwu was next, releasing her finalists in June. The 6-foot-3 center from Monteverde Academy in Monteverde, Fla. has Arizona among her top seven. In addition to Arizona, she’s considering Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, USC, and Texas A&M. Monteverde, which is ranked No. 19 in the country by MaxPreps, will lean on her as a major returning piece this season.

The final “top” list was a lengthy one from Lee. She put out her top 11 in July. The list consisted of Arizona, USC, Stanford, Michigan, South Carolina, North Carolina, Baylor, Louisville, Duke, Texas, and Florida State.

The 6-foot wing out of Stockton, Calif. has a grade of 97 from ESPN’s scouts.

What are Arizona’s needs?

The group of recruits that appear to be possibilities for Arizona consists almost entirely of wings and front-court players. Arenas is the only guard Arizona appears to be pursuing at this stage of the game.

That type of class could be in the Wildcats’ best interests if Barnes wants to hold onto players like Williams, Skylar Jones, and Kailyn Gilbert for the long term and develop her young guards instead of importing older guards from the outside.

The trio of Williams, Jones, and Gilbert consists of two freshmen and one sophomore. The other guard on the roster who will still be in Tucson when the 2024 class arrives is junior Courtney Blakely. A core of five guards, four of whom are young, would allow the group to mature together. That could be formidable by the time Gilbert is a senior.

Arizona has a roster of 11 this season, although only 10 will be available due to the injury to Montaya Dew. With guard Helena Pueyo, post Esmery Martinez, and wing Kourouma all in their final year of college basketball, the Wildcats will have seven scholarships available in 2024. If everything went perfectly and Barnes landed all five of those who have either recently been offered or who have declared Arizona a finalist, she would still have two scholarships to use on veterans from the portal.