Was Sunday really the last time Arizona’s seniors will play in McKale Center? Head coach Adia Barnes believes that at least one of the three upperclassmen will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility and return to the Wildcats next season.
“I don’t think I’ll be 3 for 3,” she said. “I’ll be 1 for 3 or 2 for 3. I’m pretty confident in that. Knock on wood.”
Barnes added: “I don’t think Aari (McDonald) is the one coming back, but I’m gonna try. At the end of the season I’m just gonna go for it.”
Barnes has said that McDonald, Sam Thomas and Trinity Baptiste will be her top three recruits once the season ends, though she was already trying to sway them after Sunday’s Senior Day ceremonies.
“It was funny because Trinity was crying and I said, ‘Trinity, no need to cry. You can come back next year and we can do it all over again,’” Barnes smiled. “So they were kind of laughing but we will get someone back, just not sure who yet. We’ve had some talks. I said they’re my biggest recruits, but I don’t want them to think about that. I want them to have a clear mind, just focusing on this year. But we will have someone back. I’m positive.”
Baptiste, a graduate student whose unselfishness received high praise from Barnes, said she will make a decision after the season. Same for Thomas, who was stumped when asked what it would take for her to return in 2021-22.
“It’s a good question,” said Thomas, who interned for Nike last summer and is already pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership. “I mean, maybe tell [Adia] to tell COVID to go away and that might help me a lot. I don’t even know. Just maybe how she got me here out of high school. I already know what the program entails but I mean I guess showing me what we have next year but I kind of already know. So, I don’t know.”
It would not be surprising if Baptiste and/or Thomas stay, but it would be surprising if McDonald does. The redshirt senior has been open about the fact that she likely would have declared for the WNBA Draft after last season had the NCAA Tournament not been cancelled and had she not suffered a leg injury. By returning, she has improved her draft stock from a late first-round pick to possibly a top-3 pick.
After Sunday’s win, McDonald tweeted “Thank you Tucson”—perhaps a sign that her mind is already made up. No matter what she decides, she already is arguably the greatest player in program history.
“She took a leap of faith and she chose us from Washington, and I think that we’ve done a lot of special things here together, so she definitely is special,” Barnes said. “I love her, I’ve known her since she was a sophomore in high school, have a great relationship with her, and it’s been fun being a part of her journey. It’s been fun watching her blossom and change and evolve into the woman she is today. Great person, great player, just all those things. Just a tremendous leader for our program. She left her legacy here at Arizona and continues to leave it.”
Barnes gushed about Thomas too.
“Sam is like everything to us,” she said. “She is a tremendous leader off the court. She’s our SAAC president here. She’s a role model. She’s the perfect student. I mean, she’s a leader in the locker room. She’s someone who always tells her teammates where to go, what to wear. She keeps us on point. On the court she’s selfless. I have to tell her to be a little bit more selfish. Like today, ‘you need to look for your shot.’ Great teammate, she’s one of the most underrated defenders in the country. If you watch her, and you look at the little things she does, they just don’t always show up on stat sheets. … She locks down her opponent every single game and they can be the 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. And she’s our team captain, so I can’t say enough about her and I would love to coach her for another year.”