Freshman guard Madi Conner just joined the Arizona Wildcats a month ago, but is apparently so absorbent that Adia Barnes envisions her making her debut this season—and maybe even contributing during the NCAA Tournament.
“She’s just like a sponge,” the UA head coach said. “She’s soaked everything in. She’s a tremendous shooter. She has personality. She’s not afraid. She’s not intimidated by anything. So she just goes out and kind of does it and I love coaching that. So I think she’s gonna have a chance to help us some down the stretch. Now it’s just getting her into a system. She doesn’t know our defensive system yet. So if she was in the game right now, it would be hard for her to catch on, but she’s learning it. Yesterday, we had some skill work and she’s picking stuff up fast.”
Arizona already has some solid 3-point shooters like Sam Thomas and Helena Pueyo, but Barnes said Conner would bring a different kind of swagger to the rotation.
“The best shooters have amnesia. Like the Katie Smiths, the Diana Taurasis,” Barnes said. “They can be 0 for 27 and that 28th (shot) they really think they’re gonna make. It’s such a different mentality. They just let it fly. And I think Madi is more like that.”
Conner certainly exudes confidence, saying that if an opportunity does come up this season, she will rise to the occasion. She trusts that she is prepared because of all the hours she spends in the gym.
“Obviously I’m a little behind because I just came in, but that’s what I want to do,” she said. “I’ve been faced with adversity so that’s kind of what I want and I’ll figure it out.”
Conner knew that enrolling midseason would be a challenge. The pace and physicality of the college game has been evident in practice. Still, she figured that making the jump in January was best for her future.
Everyone gets a free year of eligibility this season so there isn’t much downside to it. She will still be considered a freshman next year but will already have a half-season under her belt.
“I mean, it’s a great opportunity to play with some high-level players and possibly All-Americans,” Conner said. “Why wouldn’t I?”
It’s not like she’s out of her league.
“Madi is playing like she’s been here all year,” senior forward Trinity Baptiste said. “In practice and scrimmages, she’s very comfortable, can score the ball. She’s very fast and it doesn’t seem like she’s just now coming out of high school. It seems like she’s been here, so I’m super excited about how good she can really be.”
Conner’s transition to the UA has been such a whirlwind that she hasn’t been able to fully reflect on the fact that she realized a dream by joining the Wildcats, who were the first team to offer her in high school.
“It was kind of unreal,” the Chandler native said. “It didn’t register with me because it kind of all happened in a week. So it kind of just felt like I should be there and I kind of just had to get into a routine, so I really didn’t have time to think about it and kind of just had to do it and jump into the fire.”
Conner committed to Arizona because of its family atmosphere and proximity to home and so far it’s been everything she expected.
“It’s been awesome honestly,” she said. “I’m learning a lot, trying to get used to the system and everybody’s been helping me out a lot, so it’s honestly a great experience. I’m super happy to be here.”
As for what it would take for Conner to see some live action, Barnes said ideally it would be a situation where Arizona has a lead and Conner can line up alongside some experienced players.
“I would tell her, ‘Hey, these are the three plays we’re gonna work on in practice that week’ and I would say, ‘when you get in the game, these are the three plays we’re gonna run’ so she’s not trying to worry about 10 plays,” Barnes said. “And then we just can kind of ease into it. But I think she’ll help us.”