TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – Honesty can be used as a weapon in the wrong hands.
Blunt, he crushes confidence, the granules forming a base of resentment. Twisted, it creates jagged edges undermining authority, slicing trust.
Adia Barnes wields honesty like a feather, sharp enough at the end to make a point, soft at the edges to appease the ego.
“She’s a very direct person and she’s going to tell you exactly what she’s thinking and what needs to be done,” Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said. “But what I love is that she does it from a positive point of view. Always.”
Barnes’ touch helped her rebuild her alma mater from the rubble of the Pac-12 basement into a national powerhouse.
As a player, Barnes was a mix of talent and courage, skilled enough to fight you with the ball, ready to slap you in the butt if she couldn’t.
She brought those same traits back to Tucson after a seven-year stint in the WNBA, resuming a program that had fallen into disarray since leaving. Arizona had five consecutive losing seasons before Barnes was hired in 2016, winning no more than four Pac-12 games apiece.
Barnes rearranged the list in an effort to quickly bring the program back to the fore.
The Wildcats gained momentum – within the program and around Tucson – by winning the 2019 WNIT and took a huge leap forward with a run to the 2021 National Championship game. They missed out on the title in the last second. against Stanford, but gave a nation of basketball fans and beyond a glimpse of a program cast in the image of its reclusive coach.
“We were the team that wasn’t as good and just found a way and fought,” Barnes said. “I think America fell in love with how hard we played and how much fighting we had.”
Barnes reset the foundations with an aura of positive authenticity.
The recruits feel it when Barnes is at home, pulling them towards the desert. No false assurance of greatness. Only frank evaluations of the program and the place of recruits in the master plan.
Barnes found the right parts to keep the machine going for the first few years. The addition of Aari McDonald, a 2021 All-American now with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, was a huge boost and top rookies continued to flock to Tucson.
The 2022 recruiting class, led by five-star striker Maya Nnaji, is the best in school history.
“At the end of the day, if you want to have a relationship with real people, real people, they want to know the truth even if the truth is not what they want to hear,” said Salvo Coppa, the husband and assistant to Barnes. coach. “That’s who you’re drawn to and that’s what she does.”
Barnes’ constructive evaluations and enthusiasm push players to push the limits of their effort and ability. Arizona (11-1, 1-1 Pac-12) reached last year’s championship game thanks to his courage and determination. This year’s team rose to No. 4 in the PA’s Top 25 – now No. 7 – despite being selected to finish fifth in the Pac-12.
Support for women’s basketball has skyrocketed in Tucson. Arizona averaged just over 1,800 fans in Barnes’ first season in 2016-17 and has been steadily climbing. The Wildcats set a Pac-12 record with 14,644 fans in the WNIT title game and have sold nearly 6,000 season tickets this season. Assists average 7,083 over six home games.
Winning certainly plays a role. Barnes was also part of the draw, his contagious personality drawing fans to the McKale Center in Arizona.
“She’s a connector. He’s just a great person to be around, ”Heeke said. “You feel very engaged and connected with her. She’s a person people love to be with.
Even working mothers.
Barnes gave birth to daughter Capri, her second child with Cappa, just before the start of the 2020-21 season. The couple leisurely navigated the world of raising a child while trying to run a basketball program without much fanfare.
The NCAA tournament brought the act of juggling to light as the rest of the world learned that she was pumping breast milk throughout the race, even at halftime of the championship game.
Barnes received thousands of postseason posts and has become a regular on the non-sporting talk show circuit, speaking openly about the challenges of trying to balance work and motherhood.
“I wasn’t even aware until all this recognition and this news of how difficult it is because I never worked in a job where I couldn’t pump or I couldn’t just bring my child. I just did, “she said.” I was oblivious to it all. I was like wait, can’t you do that? I was a little shocked and sure enough I was going to talk about if you can’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Honest to the end.
For more AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25