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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Coach makes sure W-hoops stays visible

In just three years, Niya Butts has transformed Arizona women’s basketball into a winning program that reaches out to the public.

On top of intense practice schedules and sometimes demanding academics, the Wildcats make community involvement a priority.

So far this season, the program has hosted a movie night, Little Dribblers, multiple “meet and greet” events and started a mentoring program with Prince Chapel AME Church of Tucson.

The head coach has also made private and public appearances throughout the city, including her most recent talk last Thursday to a group of UA journalism students where she spoke about her journey to success.

“For me, I just think it’s better to be out there,” Butts said. “If you want people to get behind something you’re doing, what better way to do it than to show your face. It doesn’t take a lot of money to do, it takes time, and that’s the one thing we do have and I’m willing to give.”

Butts said there’s a bigger emphasis on making a connection with people rather than advertising to them.

“I’m not asking Arizona to come up with $400 to 500,000 to put on our marketing plan,” she said. “But what we do want is to make sure people know that they can connect with us and that I’m not only sitting in my office saying, ‘I hope people come to the game.’ I’m willing to get out there and do whatever I can to make sure that our program gets out there.”

Butts’ inspiration stems from her mother, who she describes as a very selfless person.

“I think we are all a product in some way, shape or form, of our environment — the way we were brought up and what we’ve seen over time,” Butts said. “I like being around people, talking to people, making people feel good and I like the difference you can make in peoples’ lives.”

A new partnership

Sometimes a requested appearance can lead to a greater and more meaningful venture for Butts. Depending on the circumstances, she’ll latch onto an organization and want to be as involved as possible, she said.

That’s exactly what happened with her newfound relationship with Prince Chapel AME Church of Tucson.

Last year, the Wildcats spent a lot of time with the Boys and Girls Club, but they could never call the philanthropy their own.

“It’s actually something I wanted to do for awhile,” Butts said. “In terms of our team, we do a lot of things where people request us to come out into the community, but in terms of something we owned, I wanted our girls to be able to connect with something — to have personal relationships with these kids.”

The opportunity arrived when a friend invited her to church one morning at Prince. Despite already having its own youth group, the church created a partnership with Butts.

“I though it would be great, because a lot of those young kids, even though they live in Tucson, have never been on a college campus,” Butts said. “I figure if we could expose them to different things and talk about different things, it can make a difference and inspire some of them.”

Vianna Turner, the church’s secretary, has two younger siblings in the program.

“The kids love it,” Turner said. “They always are excited when they come back from events.”

Now, many of the children want to become famous basketball players, Turner added.

Last month, Butts and the team took a group of kids on a tour of McKale Center, which included a guest appearance by the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Brian Odom. He had planned to show the kids some moves, but that itinerary quickly changed when the kids first stepped into the athletes’ weight room.

“As soon as they got into the weight room, their eyes lit up and they didn’t care about anything anybody had to say,” Butts said. “They were in awe. We would have been ruining the moment had we tried to sit them down. It’s just amazing, because we see it every day and I think a lot of our players witnessing that understand better now the opportunity they’re afforded.”

And there lies another underlying goal Butts has for the team’s program.

“It’s not only for the youth and the group that’s in the mentoring program, but it’s for our kids as well,” Butts said, “because I think we all are getting something out of it.”

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