Adia Barnes has been a major figure in Seattle’s basketball community for nearly two decades. She spent three years of her playing career with the Storm, culminating in the 2004 championship run. Named to the franchise’s all-decade team in 2009, Barnes served as a Storm color analyst for the past nine seasons. And since 2011, the San Diego native has been an assistant coach at the University of Washington.
Earlier this week, it was announced Barnes is heading back to another place where she had immense success on the court.
The University of Arizona, her alma mater, hired Barnes as its head women’s basketball coach on Monday. Barnes is the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer (2,237 points) and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2003. She replaces Niya Butts, who was head coach for the past eight seasons.
“I’m extremely excited. For me, Arizona is where everything began,” Barnes told StormBasketball.com. “The passion that I have for the school makes it that much more special. I chose that school for a reason, and to go back there, I felt like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was hard because I’ve been in Seattle for so long – this has been my home since 2002. And after being at UW for five years, it was a really hard decision. I wouldn’t have left UW if I didn’t think I could be successful [at Arizona].”
Since Barnes joined the coaching staff five years ago, the UW has won at least 20 games every season and made a pair of appearances in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies just finished a magical run to the Final Four in Indianapolis, where they fell to Syracuse in the national semifinal last weekend. As a No. 7 seed, the Huskies upset Maryland, Kentucky and Stanford to win their regional.
“I enjoyed every moment of it,” Barnes said. “Unfortunately we didn’t come out with the W on Sunday, but the girls did such an amazing job this year to make it to the Final Four.”
This UW team was the ultimate example of each player understanding and accepting her role, Barnes added. Considering the Huskies had lost two starters from the previous campaign – plus guard Brianna Ruiz suffered a season-ending injury in January – this may not have been their most talented squad in recent years.
But every single player on the roster bought into head coach Mike Neighbors’ system. And that’s why, despite finishing fifth in the Pac-12, the Huskies danced their way to the first Final Four in program history.
“What was on the front of the jersey was more important than what was on the back,” Barnes said. “I think that was really evident going down the stretch. …We always had great chemistry on the floor, but it was raised to another level the last three or four weeks. Players really began to help each other a little more, do a little more and have a little bit more of a sense of urgency. And it was contagious.”
Now, after helping the UW become a national contender, Barnes is aiming to turn around an Arizona program that had plenty of success during her playing career.
Barnes guided the Wildcats to a title in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament in 1996, earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honor. The next year, Arizona received its first-ever NCAA tournament bid after going 22-7 in the regular season. As of late, however, the Wildcats have been near the bottom of the Pac-12.
“I know it takes time,” Barnes said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but I don’t want to be that school where everybody hopes to see you on the schedule. There’s just extra pride there. It would be different if I didn’t taste success there.
“I think Arizona has everything in place, and it’s a program that should be successful. I want to be a part of it. I’ve never stepped down from a challenge, and I think we can do a lot of great things there.”