Former Vanderbilt forward Koi Love entered the transfer portal on the last day of March and heard from the Arizona Wildcats the very next day. They hit it off immediately and a week later she was already committed to them.
“A lot of other schools reached out but none of them felt right, none of them felt like Arizona,” Love said.
Her commitment came a day after Trinity Baptiste announced that she would not be returning to the Wildcats next season. Love says that was just a coincidence, but she seems like the perfect replacement.
A physical 6-foot forward from Florida just like Baptiste, Love was averaging 20.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game when Vandy opted out of the 2020-21 season after eight games. She started all eight and had four double-doubles, establishing herself as one of the best posts in the SEC. That was after she made SEC All-Freshman Team the year before after averaging a team-high 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Love once played in a tournament in Phoenix when she was in high school, but that’s all the time she’s spent in Arizona. Due to NCAA COVID-19 restrictions she was not able to take an official visit to the UA before committing. She knows what kind of risk that is.
“This is definitely a leap of faith,” she said.
Love will have three years of eligibility at Arizona and she expects to be immediately eligible for the 2021-22 season as the Wildcats look to return to the Final Four.
I caught up with Love to discuss her commitment, how she fits at Arizona, why she’s so confident in her decision and more. Here’s what she had to say. (The full interview can be watched at the bottom of the story.)
Ryan Kelapire: So how did all of this come together? I saw you entered the transfer portal on like the last day of March, so obviously it had to have come together pretty quickly.
Koi Love: “Yeah, I entered the transfer portal on like a Wednesday, Coach Tamisha (Augustin) reached out. I knew her a long time ago from coaching at UCF. We had a really good conversation, obviously. I was being much of a fan girl, you know? They were about to go to the Elite Eight, just asking her how that felt and things. She asked me if I wanted to talk to the head coach and of course I said yes. We had an amazing conversation. And since then, they just kind of sold me.”
RK: What stood out about that conversation with Adia Barnes?
KL: “Her passion for the game. After getting off the phone with her, I really felt like it was the place for me to be. She just cared so much about me as a person. And obviously all the playing experience and coaching experience and now tournament experience she has, I just cannot wait to go play for her.”
RK: You mentioned the Elite Eight. How much did Arizona’s run in the NCAA Tournament factor into your decision?
KL: “Yeah, that is such a big factor. One of the main reasons I’m transferring from the school I’m at now is because I want to win games. I want to go to the NCAA Tournament and playing for a coach who has that experience and a team that has been there before I feel like it’s just going to elevate my game so much.”
RK: And when you were watching the NCAA Tournament, what was your impression of Adia? She got a lot of publicity after that UConn game for a passionate postgame speech.
KL: “I love her. I love it. I love it all. The passion for the game, who doesn’t want to coach that’s gonna do all that for you? The cameras just happened to be there. At the end of the day, like we’re playing the game of basketball. Fans and cameras just happen to be there. Whatever is said and done in between that, it’s between her and her team, so I love that.”
RK: What did Adia tell you as far as what your role will be?
KL: “She’s just basically saying that I’ll fit right into the system, which I totally agree.”
RK: Why do you think you’ll fit into the system?
KL: “As far as my scoring power goes, being able to be versatile, defending, just that sort of thing.”
RK: For someone that’s never seen you play, how would you describe your game?
KL: “I would say dominant and dynamic. Very versatile.”
RK: Arizona plays a very aggressive style of defense and likes to pressure the ball a lot. How do you think you’re going to fit into that?
KL: “Aggression is my strong suit. I’m so excited to just really let loose. I’m sure Coach is going to be really on me about defense and I can’t wait to get acclimated to that type of system.”
RK: Other than winning games, what other factors were you considering when looking at schools?
KL: “Winning games (laughs). Winning games.”
RK: Arizona is a program that’s really on the rise. Like, they won six games four years ago. So what do you think about being a part of a program like that? The fan support has been pretty amazing these past few years.
KL: “Yeah, I’m so excited. I love a good underdog story. I’m here to fight, here to win. I love it. I’m so excited.”
RK: You improved a lot between your freshman and sophomore year. What was the key to that?
KL: “I think after your freshman year, speaking for me, after my freshman year, I just kind of got it. Being in the SEC, knowing what every team is like and every coach is like, you just kind of fit more and more into the system each year.”
RK: What’s the next step for you as a player? What do you want to improve about your game?
KL: “Definitely my 3-point shot. I know in the Pac-12 I have to shoot the ball. So just really getting in the gym and becoming more confident in that over the summer.”
RK: Yeah, what do you think about the Pac-12? I know some people feel like they don’t get enough recognition, but Arizona and Stanford obviously played in the title game.
KL: “Yeah, the Pac-12 is definitely very underrated. I think it’s a mixture of all the conferences, honestly. You got the transition game, but a lot of very skilled players, but then a lot of players who are actually able to shoot the three ball, and I love it. I’m so excited to play in it.”
RK: What do you think is the biggest difference from the SEC?
KL: “I think the SEC is just a lot more athletic, a lot more just going down and getting a bucket. In the Pac-12, I think there’s a lot more thinking the game and running plays and playing in the half court. It’s fun as transition is, I’m really excited to be able to expand my game and do that.”
RK: Your season ended in January, so how have you stayed in basketball shape since then?
KL: “We go to the gym every day, five days a week, and we do weightlifting. And then afterwards, we do some sort of shooting or basketball-related thing. Just really staying on top of that.”
RK: What was it like when your team decided to opt out of the season?
KL: “It was really sad. We had a senior Chelsie (Hall), who we wanted to keep playing for, but she was actually one of the ones who actually understood that ‘Okay, it’s time to wrap it up.’ We just kind of came together as a team and staff and understood that it just would not be in our best interest to keep playing.”
RK: But was it kind of frustrating that your season ended like that so early?
KL: “Of course I want to play basketball, I want to keep playing. But being on the team and knowing how low our numbers were, and just how hard we would have had to fight every single night, it just made sense to end it. Of course I would have loved to play this season, but we get a season back, so everything happens for a reason.”
RK: I know you haven’t physically visited the U of A campus, but have you done a virtual tour at least?
KL: “I have not, but I’ve been on the phone with them, like Coach T, while she’s in the locker room or Coach Adia while she’s in her office. A lot of the girls have showed me around where they live and things like that.”
RK: Oh, so you have been able to communicate with the current players?
KL: “Yes, I’ve been able to talk to a lot of the players. They’re so sweet. And I just love how they’ve welcomed me with open arms. I’m so excited to play with them and get to gel with them. They all seem so amazing.”
RK: So when you were doing research about schools and coaches, what kinds of things were you looking into?
KL: “I did a lot of like phone calling around, just reputations. I want to transfer and I want to stay there for the next few years, so hopefully I don’t have to transfer again. Just making sure I make the right decision.”
RK: So what was Arizona’s reputation?
KL: “Oh man, everyone loves Coach Barnes. She is amazing. They said she’s gonna take care of me. She’s a great person. Obviously, you can tell that by the amount of players that she has coming back next year. She’s family oriented. She’s a mom. Her kids are so sweet. I talked to her husband. Coach Tamisha vouched for her, so I loved it. I feel really confident about it.”
RK: You mentioned Adia’s pro career. Why is that so important to you? Do you hope to go pro as well?
KL: “Yes, I do. I think it’s important to play for someone who has had a lot of playing experience because they just understand. I feel like that just adds to the level of understanding when you’re on the court and it’ll just help her coach better.”
RK: And you also mentioned her being a mom. Why is that so important?
KL: “I’m going to be so far away from home and just to have someone who understands that not on my best days that, ‘okay, today, she needs just a little bit extra care.”’
RK: Why are you so confident in this decision? I mean, going from Florida to Tennessee to Arizona is definitely a unique path.
KL: “It definitely just feels right. I have a lot of connection to the West Coast. My dad is from there, he lives out there, so in the summers I was always in the West Coast. I consider myself some type of a West Coast girl. I know talking to Coach Tamisha and just doing my research about the head coach, I just know she has my best interest. I’m so excited. I just feel really strongly about it.”