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October 11, 2017

Adia Barnes

Kat Wright

JaLea Bennett

San Francisco, California

ADIA BARNES: We're all really happy to be here. I'm excited for this upcoming season, and just delighted that there is a great turnout today. So thanks for being here.

Q. Noticing that you have three returning players and that it looks like you're creating your own culture in Tucson, what do you want this program to be known as?
ADIA BARNES: Well, the biggest thing has been the culture from the git-go. I just want to be known as a place with tremendous culture, and just some place that's going to -- we're starting to build a legacy, and I think it started with the culture with us. Having three returning players has been valuable with so many newcomers.

But, yeah, the culture for me is everything. It doesn't change in a year. It takes time, but it's really evident this year. Adding a fifth-year like Kat Wright has been tremendous because she's added to the culture.

But it's a lot having seven new players. Just still working on cultural things. But it is night and day from last year. It's refreshing and players have really bought-in, and it's a really big piece of the process.

Q. Can you talk about the changes from your experience? You sat in this chair last year, and it is a fairly new experience for you as a head coach. Can you talk about the ways you feel it's a little easier?
ADIA BARNES: Well, first, people always said it's going to be really hard and everything moves fast. But it is literally like drinking out of a firehose. And I still have a little bit, but not the same. I think you kind of know what to expect. But when you first come in, it is a whirlwind. You're late on everything. There are so many things you have to change, and you start with the culture, but you can't change the culture right away. So it's little milestones you reach.

But then this year, it's just a little bit easier because you have new players that you have more relationships with. And I built relationships with JaLea and some other players, so that just makes it a lot easier.

But I think for us it's been adding the right pieces, changing the culture, and doing the little things to show how it's a process to win, and you have to do it every day and just what that looks like.

I think initially no one really knew what that looked like because there hadn't been a lot of success. So bringing in kids that are from a championship culture, kids that have won at the high school at AAU level, all of those things are essential for the culture.

We're starting to see the difference. I think when you're in it, you don't notice it right away, until the end of the year, JaLea's starting to speak my language, and I'm like, okay, they actually listen to me. Those little things. Or you see things off the court. And those are things I value.

Now I'm starting to see it more, but it's not where I want it to be, but it's definitely in the right direction.

Q. Considering all the newcomers and you have transfer students, now some can't play this year as they're sitting out, but in some respects does this kind of feel like another year one in your program because of all the different faces?
ADIA BARNES: Yeah, it does in a lot of ways because you have to teach so many new things, like you did in the first year. The first year is hard for the players. You didn't recruit them and they're adjusting, so I was very sensitive to that.

But these are all players that I've recruited. You know, besides JaLea and those guys. But now I have a great relationship with them.

But I do think it is a lot of times like you're repeating some of the same things. Ideally as a coach you don't want classes of like four, five, six, seven. But I think initially when you're trying to get the best players you can, you just kind of deal with it.

But I think what's really helped this year is the three transfers, because they're experienced. Like she has a tremendous amount of experience, so they can add to the culture in positive ways and help mold the freshmen.

It's just going to be really hard looking down the bench and seeing three great players that can't play this year, so that's going to be a challenge.

Q. Kat and JaLea, JaLea, there are players that have kind of come and gone, and you're still here. What was it that made you stay and want to be a part of this new culture? And Kat, what made you want to transfer in and be a part of it?
JALEA BENNETT: Like she said, I got to know Adia, and like she said, she was really trying to change the culture, and I bought in. When I came here my freshman year, my goal was to help build the program and change the culture, and I felt staying here with Adia was the best way to do that. I'm glad I stayed all four years.

ADIA BARNES: And I'm very glad she stayed too.

KAT WRIGHT: For me, I think a lot of it was throughout that whole transfer process it was the coaching staff that really made me want to be a part of that program. Like Ja said, to want to build something that, yeah, I only have a year to play, but I can have pride in my school after the fact. When I'm older and I'm watching Arizona on TV, I can be like: I helped build that. That's what I wanted.

Q. Kat, this is your first year now. You're in a Power Five conference at Arizona. What is the difference already coming from a mid-major and now practicing and then playing in the Pac-12?
KAT WRIGHT: There are so many, I don't even know where to start. I think practices for one, there are so many details. It's so detail oriented and making sure we do every little thing correctly.

But I think the one thing that I absolutely love about playing in a Power Five conference is the girls that I'm surrounded with are so competitive. For me, I love that. I thrive off of that. So just having those people around me.

Q. And, JaLea, last year you were fourth-leading scorer. Now this is really your team. What are you doing and what have you done to prepare yourself and prepare your teammates for this coming year?
JALEA BENNETT: I feel like the biggest thing that I've done is put my own needs aside and focused more on the team. I have to step up and I have to be a leader with my voice and by my actions.

So the biggest thing is stepping outside of myself and making sure I'm there for my teammates, especially focusing on how to talk to my teammates. Some teammates, you know, I can get on them like in the heat of the moment; some teammates I have to go to and talk to them on the side and let them know: You've got it.

But my biggest thing is basically to take a step back and focus, focus in on like this year and what we need to get done.

Q. Coach Barnes, you have the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation. UConn is No. 3. What is key to recruiting?
ADIA BARNES: You have to remind me like they're right next to me? Thanks.

Q. I'm just saying.
ADIA BARNES: Well, I think a lot of talk is about the No. 2. But their commitment, so it's not official until you sign kids, that's one thing. That's just the fruit of our labor. Our staff worked really hard, and we did reach for the stars. We did go after some really top kids.

I think that our staff had tremendous relationships throughout the country and throughout the world, because we got some kids from overseas.

But it was just hard work. I think the hardest thing in that recruiting process was selling a vision. So you haven't had success. People look and a lot of players, it's hard to be part of a building program. It's hard to go there and your sweat, blood and tears and maybe not get to where you want to go.

So it's not for everybody. It is for the Kelsey Plums, it is for the Jasmine Davis's. Those are kids that have the mentality that want to come in and, okay, I'm going to bring you there. But it's not for everybody.

So all the players that we recruited, they're all players like Kat that she said: I want to be part of this legacy and go there and start something special.

We had to sell a vision. It's hard to sell a vision to 17-year-olds. But selling them saying this is what we're doing, this is what it looks like. We've had the experience. I brought Morgan Valley in, she's won in Final Fours, she's won National Championships. We've been to the Final Four together with college coaches, and I've won championships. Showing them that we know what it looks like and believing in that.

They all have a chip on their shoulder. To me they're all made for it. They're made for the process. They're made to come in and do something hard.

Like I went to Arizona and played for Joan because of that. I wanted to be part of something special. I wanted to be the one that helps put us on the map and make my mark. All of these kids are like that. They're like: Coach, we're with you. We're going to do it.

It's exciting to me because that's what I want. It's not for everybody. We've lost some top kids because of that, but the kids I have, they're the kids for it, and they're the kids I believe we can get it done with.

Q. In the recruiting process, how do you use the Pac-12 platform to enhance your recruiting?
ADIA BARNES: It's a tremendous platform to use. By far the best conference in the country hands down. We're not building a conference. Our conference is there and it's to be reckoned with, and it is by far the best. You look at the RPI and all those things. I'm going to sell that there are 111 games on the network next year. I'm going to sell there are five ESPN games. Because kids that come from far -- from Chicago, from New York, from overseas -- their parents want to see them play. Now at the network, you can see them play.

I think also a really key recruiting point for me was, well, before you didn't have players from the West Coast being No. 1 picks or NCAA leaders and all of those things like Kelsey Plum was in the Pac-12. So there is recognition.

Now there is visibility. Now players are getting drafted first-round top picks, and that's really important for players that their vision is to go pro.

So all those things with the Pac-12 Network has helped us recruit and helped us sell the product. It's a beautiful product to sell. This is a great conference. It's in great cities.

So it is by far the best. It's not something we just say, but it's proven now because of the seven teams in the tournament. So all of us can use that for recruiting. I think our league does the best job of promoting that, and I think we can promote it even more.

Q. I was going to ask the same question, but I'm also wondering on the flip side you're in a situation where this league has maybe five teams that are going to be in the top 25. Battles night in and night out. Do you have to balance that in recruiting and saying, yeah, you're in this great conference but it's a challenge? What is that?
ADIA BARNES: Yeah, but I will always sell if you want to be the best, you've got to play with the best. So do you want to go to a conference that is No. 1 but doesn't play a hard game all year?

So, yes, in the Pac-12 you beat each other up all year, but it really showed the results last year that prepared us for the tournament. Yes, they were beating each other up every night, and there was no night that was a given win. But then you have success later on when you play in the tournament. So I think that was the result.

But it is a hard conference, and I think it goes to show Washington's (indiscernible) and went to the Final Four a couple years ago.

So if you want to play with the best, you come to the Pac-12. I think a lot of players and overseas, your goal isn't to go play in the Euro Cup. Your goal is to play overseas in the Euro League. That's the best conference. It's very comparable to that.

Yes, if you want to get better and you want to have a chance to go pro and stuff, you have to be in the best conference. I think that's what this conference allows you to do. I hope that answers your question.

Q. My question is for all three of you, you've got kids from all over the country and the world now. Like how is the chemistry on the team? Do you do special things? Do you have a special song or things like that?
ADIA BARNES: We don't have special songs. If you have ideas, let me know. But we do a lot of things. I think we talk a lot about culture. It is the most important thing. I've never been on a championship team that doesn't have a tremendous culture. It doesn't mean you have to have ten All-Stars or all Pac-12 kids. You have to have the right pieces.

So we've put a lot of energy in getting the right kids, not just in getting a great kid that's not a great person. So that's really important. I like to do a lot with teams. I'll let them speak more.

But one thing I did, which I thought was awesome this year, we had a retreat. It wasn't just an ordinary retreat. I thought let me get players out of their element. I tell them they're in a box, and how are you going to get out of the box? And some of the kids say I'm in the top left corner, and some of the kids I'm like, well, you need to get out of it.

So we did a retreat at a ranch. We did horse penning. We got in groups of four and had to corral the cows in the cages. So it was team building, but it was great. It was a lot of fun.

It just really changed the chemistry. They were scared to death, because some of the coaches were like: If I didn't work for you, I would tell you heck no, I'm not doing this.

So it was tremendous. It's all the little things. I do believe it's not one retreat that's going to fix everything. I think it's a daily process.

So I do indirect things that they don't know are team building. So every day they eat breakfast together. It's not labeled as team building, but it is team building.

I chose to buy a house a half mile away. I want the players at my house because it is a family. I have a child, my husband's on staff. So I want it to feel like that. I don't want to just say and sell it as a family, because I've been places it's like that. But I wanted to show this is a family, this is what it's like; you can be a part of it.

Now, it's not for everybody, and that's okay, because then you're not going to be a part of this program. But it is for the people. It is like that. So those are some things that we do. They could probably speak more.

JALEA BENNETT: Since I've been here -- I've been here for four years, and this is the first year where they like to get together and we like to go to the locker room and have a movie night. We like to go to the movies, we'll go out to eat together as a team. We literally went to Mr. An's. We dressed up and we all went to Mr. An's and ate dinner (indiscernible) without the staff.

Yeah, like we'll be in our team group message and be like: Let's go do this, let's go do that. If we go somewhere, I really enjoy including people. That's my biggest thing. So if I'm ever doing something, let's say I'm going to go to Funtasticks in Tucson, I'll make sure I put in the group message saying: Hey, I'm going to Funtasticks, and if you want to join, let me know, and we'll try to work around schedules and stuff.

But we make an obvious effort to hang out outside of basketball and all that.

KAT WRIGHT: I think with all of the chances just to hang out with each other, we become so comfortable with each other. So we have dance parties in the locker room. And I don't dance, but I will with them. So it's just being comfortable around each other, and it's all of those little things that we do, like the retreat and building off of that every single day. Not just letting that be, but continuing to be inclusive and hang out with people that you wouldn't normally hang out with. So just getting outside of your element.

Q. I've actually been horse penning, you get almost there and then one escapes. So can you tell us a little bit about who your team was for horse penning and some anecdote about that experience?
ADIA BARNES: First tell them what group won.

KAT WRIGHT: I don't remember.

ADIA BARNES: 27 seconds, it was awesome.

JALEA BENNETT: Well, on my team we had Morgan, who had a naturally slow horse, so hers was just trotting. But it was me, Destiny, and I believe Tee Tee was on my team. We struggled a little bit. Struggle was extremely real. We almost had a good time, but one of us forgot to close it off and one cow escaped and then another one. There were only three, so all three of them were gone. They had to help us. We had like a minute, and it was very bad. But we got together and we did a better job the next time. It was a lot of fun, though.

ADIA BARNES: And it's hard, because at first you don't really run on a horse. Usually if you go horseback riding you trot and may run like ten steps, but you have to run across the field, and it's kind of scary. So we had to pass the test. But you saw who took charge. Morgan was scared because she'd never been on a horse before.

But you saw who took the leadership. You had a role and you had to do it, and it wasn't easy. So it just got everybody out of their element. But it showed a lot of our characteristics.

KAT WRIGHT: My team was Salvo, Dom, and Sammy, and we improved. We started with like a minute and a half and then steadily got better and better because we did it three times, I think. But it was definitely nerve-racking. My horse was kind of crazy. His name was Yeager (phonetic), and we'd get to the line, and I could not get him to stop. He would just go. So I'd be booking it, and they'd have to follow me. It was fun. But it was a little crazy.

JALEA BENNETT: Felt like a natural, though.

ADIA BARNES: We went all out. We had cowboy hats with red Arizona bandanas. It was a really good time and a really good team-building experience.

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