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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


More than just X’s and O’s

Ian Green
Arizona women’s basketball assistant coach Morgan Valley, center, gives instructions to the team during their game against Iona on Nov. 10 in McKale Center. Valley participated in four Final Fours from 2000-04 and won three titles with UConn women’s basketball.

Arizona women’s basketball head coach Adia Barnes has a plan in place to make Tucson a destination for young women across the country. However, that plan can’t take shape unless she has the support system to carry through the vision, and that begins with assistant coaches. Barnes made, on paper, one of her more significant hires by bringing in Morgan Valley, a three-time National Champion, on staff.

Valley comes from one of the greatest programs in sports history, UConn women’s basketball. A member of the Huskies, Valley participated in four Final Fours from 2000-04 and won three titles during that time under legendary head coach Geno Auriemma.

“Morgan Valley is one of the best young assistant coaches in the country,” Auriemma said in a statement from Arizona Athletics. “Her knowledge of the game, loyalty and work ethic will be a great asset to Adia as the Wildcats continue their rise to national prominence.”

Though frustrated with the level of competition at previous stops, after getting into coaching following her playing days, Valley learned quickly that not every program is the same. Thus came the nurturing component and the understanding that building a great program starts with great people. Admittedly, she says there were some bumps along the way.

“At first, when you’re a young coach, I would get angry and disappointed,” Valley said. “Then my dad said, ‘You look like an idiot.’ I was getting really, really mad on the bench and yelling, so not positive energy, it was more negative …That’s why every place isn’t UConn, everyone tries to do it, but it’s really hard to do it.”

Arizona women's basketball assistant coach Morgan Valley when she played for the UConn from 2000 to 2004.
Arizona women’s basketball assistant coach Morgan Valley when she played for the UConn from 2000 to 2004.

Valley said the most important thing she learned from her time at UConn is that nothing comes easy. She recounted hours of practice and training with limited minutes and being hampered by injuries. They were not a reasons for failure, but instead provided opportunities to understand hard work pays off in different ways.

Some of the similarities that Valley sees in the two programs is from the model player that Barnes is looking for: tough, smart players that are all about basketball, academics and bettering themselves as individuals in the community. The pitch of late to recruits was to be part of a program on the rise. It hasn’t been easy, but the results have landed the Wildcats among the best in the country, currently the No. 4 recruiting class in the country.

Valley was an assistant alongside Barnes at Washington. When former assistant Kelly Rae Finley took off for Florida, there was only one person she wanted. The two enjoyed being a part of the Huskies’ run to the Final Four in 2015-16, which if you are counting, means Valley has been to five Final Fours now. What will it take to make a run at number six? For Valley, it is simple: Vision and family.

A big reason for the pitch-success to recruits of late is the family environment. It makes players, and their families, feel like Tucson is a legitimate home away from home. 

Every road trip players literally take a “snack pack” with them, filled with little treats as if they’re about to take the bus to school. It’s the small things like that which separate the bottom from the top, a nurturing aspect in student-athlete development, which can get lost amongst the grind of college business.

“I like having kids around, you kind of get to see things in a different light; things aren’t as serious when there’s a little kid running around,” Valley said, referencing Barnes’ son, Mateo, who attends practices and hangs around the team.

Still settling down in Tucson, Valley hopes to have a long tenure here with the Wildcats. In fact, her learning curve never stops. She points to the new dance moves that transfer Aarion McDonald tried showing her, and continuously teases her about. But it is that insight in a nutshell that players buy into. They want to know you care about more than X’s and O’s. Valley joins a staff that is filled with coaches that care more than just that.

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