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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Butts to bring energy, spunk”

    From left, UA senior associate athletics director Rocky LaRose, Niya Butts and UA athletics director Jim Livengood address the media yesterday in McKale Center. Butts was named the womens basketball teams eighth head coach yesterday after Livengood fired Joan Bonvicini nearly three weeks ago.
    From left, UA senior associate athletics director Rocky LaRose, Niya Butts and UA athletics director Jim Livengood address the media yesterday in McKale Center. Butts was named the women’s basketball team’s eighth head coach yesterday after Livengood fired Joan Bonvicini nearly three weeks ago.

    Newly hired Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts arrived in Tucson for the first time Tuesday night.

    Before seeing her first Saguaro cactus, Butts said, “”I’m home,”” as her flight landed.

    Although that mentality indirectly translated into a new sense of eagerness and excitement to revamp the program, Butts made her intentions clear and direct at yesterday’s press conference: This was her pride, and she wasn’t afraid to show it.

    “”If I could jump on this table right now, and turn cartwheels and flips, I would,”” Butts said in her Southern accent. “”I just think so many great things can happen here. I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to tomorrow, and the next day.””

    UA athletics director Jim Livengood opened the press conference stating, “”This is an incredibly exciting time for the University of Arizona and women’s basketball.””

    Butts concluded her half-hour press conference without any doubts in Livengood’s eyes. Frequently exchanging laughs and smirks with senior

    associate athletics director Kathleen “”Rocky”” LaRose, Butts provided Livengood and the media with colorful insight into the true passion she brings to Tucson – not just on the basketball court, but “”99 percent”” of the time.

    Asked about her spunkiness midway through the press conference, Butts insisted her energy wasn’t a fake act or one-time deal.

    “”If you’re looking for something else, then you probably shouldn’t come back to another press conference,”” she told the media. “”I don’t know another way to be. This is it.””

    Butts’ enthusiasm is nothing new. During her days at Kentucky, fans responded to Butts’ attempt to fire up the crowd, lifting her hands as an active and animated assistant on the sidelines.

    “”I have a lot of pride in what I do, and I think you’ll see that come through recruitment, our kids on the floor, through my staff – all of the above,”” Butts said.

    While waiting to finalize the contract, Butts plans to take an aggressive approach in revitalizing fans’ interest in the program and fill seats at McKale Center.

    At 30, Butts takes the reins as the Pac-10’s youngest coach, and believes a young, energetic person can bind a solid connection with both the team and potential recruits.

    “”I plan to get out everywhere I can in the community as soon as I can,”” Butts said. “”I don’t know where I’m going to go yet. I may go to McDonald’s and invite everybody to the first women’s basketball game. If I have to do that, I will.””

    Asked whether being a woman provides advantages in coaching women’s basketball, Butts declared her passion for Tucson’s hardwood, and also elaborated on the attractiveness of Arizona’s basketball program, the Pacific 10 Conference’s prestigiousness and Tucson’s warm climate provided.

    “”Being a female, I’m not sure if there’s an advantage or not an advantage,”” she said. “”There’s an advantage of having Niya Butts coaching here at the University of Arizona.

    “”It’s an average temperature of 83 degrees – I don’t know anybody living in America that wouldn’t like that every day,”” she added.

    Butts spent five years as an assistant with Kentucky’s women’s basketball program, after prior coaching experiences at Michigan State and Tennessee Tech. Under Tennessee women’s basketball head coach Pat Summitt, Butts played four years from 1996-2000 and captured two national championships with the Lady Vols.

    With a resume of familiar conferences limited to the Big 10 Conference, Ohio Valley Conference and the Southeastern Conference, Butts enters a new atmosphere with the Pacific 10 Conference.

    Another reporter inquired about her familiarity with the conference, and Butts didn’t hesitate to boast her confidence – something past Arizona teams have lacked.

    “”I know that Arizona will soon move toward the top of that conference. I think the Pac-10 definitely is a conference where Arizona can be the top teams in it.””

    While at Kentucky, Butts’ intensity impressed not only fans, but the women’s basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell.

    “”All the things that came along with her time (playing at Tennessee), she was always as a player a very high energy player,”” Mitchell said over the phone yesterday. “”I think that’s her personality and it translated into success for her in coaching.

    “”I think in recruiting, just having the tenacity to always be able to communicate to people in a way that shows you’re passionate about where you are,”” he added. “”That’s just her makeup and that’s the way she’s always been since I’ve known her.””

    Butts’ future efforts at revitalizing the free-falling program prompted a sea of excitement and hope from current Wildcats. Butts held an hourlong team meeting yesterday in an effort to meet and characterize her future team.

    Beneath an animated personality, current UA players believe Butts will offer the best of both worlds: discipline and fun.

    “”I think a lot of people are afraid of her because she just looks like a strict person, but she looks like she gets stuff done,”” said junior forward Sarah Hays. “”She has a strict personality but on the side a playful one, too.””

    Added senior guard Jessica Arnold: “”She’s going to be tough on us but I like that a lot. She’s going to bring a lot of discipline, and I like her encouraging words.

    “”It’s consistent with our goals as a team and what we want,”” Arnold added. “”I think what we’ve been lacking she’s going to bring into us.””

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