Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics
As a teenager Trinity Baptiste used to hoop in the streets of Tampa, often as the only girl among grown men.
She loved the challenge.
“It was never uncomfortable for me,” Baptiste said. “I would say for them at first it was uncomfortable. When I first stepped out there, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a girl, it’s a girl. We’re gonna go soft.’ And then I’ll hit them with one move and they’ll feel how strong I am and then they’re like, ‘Oh no, we got to play her like the rest of us.’ That was the biggest thing—them realizing I didn’t want to be treated different.”
That upbringing built a toughness and an underdog mentality in Baptiste that she says she still carries today as an undersized post player in Division I basketball.
“When I was growing up I always had to work hard for everything that I’ve gotten up until this day, so that’s just how I approach the game when I play, when I rebound,” she said. “From the time it leaves the shooter’s hand I’m watching it, and I’m watching it the entire time, so how it’s gonna come off (the rim) and everything. I just try to stay one step ahead and just choose to work harder than everyone.”
After two productive seasons at Virginia Tech, Baptiste joined Arizona as a graduate transfer this fall. The 6-foot forward is expected to replace the departed Dominique McBryde in the starting lineup, and her hard-nosed approach should help shore up the Wildcats’ biggest weakness—rebounding.
Arizona improved in all facets of the game last year as they finished as the No. 12 team in the country, but still struggled on the glass, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding percentage and dead last in offensive rebounding percentage.
Baptiste averaged 6.4 rebounds in just 23 minutes per game last year. Six times she grabbed 10 or more rebounds in a game, including 17 against Gardner-Webb.
“Both are phenomenal players, but the difference is Trinity is more physical than Dominique,” said star guard Aari McDonald. “Dom was a more finesse player, but they both have great outside shots. They’re kind of similar in a way but I’ll have to say Trinity is more aggressive. She’s definitely going to be a key piece this year.”
It’s already showing in practice. Baptiste’s aggressiveness is forcing Arizona’s other posts to match her intensity level. Baptiste has enjoyed battling with junior Cate Reese, who she’s expected to start alongside this season.
“Every day is super competitive from every position, not just down in the post but every position,” Baptiste said. “Me and Cate going at it every day, either she’s on the floor or I’m on the floor. My team, they know that we’re gonna give it all we got in practice every day.”
That should benefit Arizona when it comes time to face elite teams like UCLA and Stanford.
“I mean, if I somehow switch on [Baptiste] there’s like no chance for me,” wing Mara Mote laughed. “She’s really, really strong and I think that helps for our other posts. Because when they go at each other, it helps when we’re gonna play different teams and their posts.”
Baptiste was originally going to transfer to a school closer to home because of some family issues. That plan changed after the pandemic. She was able to spend lots of quality time with them in the spring, which made her feel more comfortable about finishing her career on the other side of the country.
“I got extra time with my family that I haven’t had in years…and then when I met Coach Adia (Barnes) and we talked about my goals after this year, playing professionally one day and just being a part of this team, it just felt right,” Baptiste said. “So I just went with my heart and my heart led me in the right direction.”
It was quite the leap of faith. Baptiste had never been to Arizona before joining the Wildcats. The pandemic prevented her from visiting before she committed in April.
But she’s loving it so far.
“I actually can really see myself living out here one day in the future,” Baptiste said. “I love it here. The biggest difference is the heat. Obviously I’m from Florida, but it’s very humid and the weather is up and down in Florida. We get a lot of rain storms, but we also get sunshine all the time as well. But I think I’ve been here for about four, five months and it’s only rained twice.”