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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Cultivating a winning culture

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Head coach Niya Butts was brought to Arizona to change the landscape of Wildcat women’s basketball.

Taking the reins of a team that went 10-20 the year before she arrived, Butts led Arizona to a slightly better 12-19 record during the 2008-2009 campaign, and in the team’s media day last month, she alluded to the struggles of changing the culture of a program overnight.

“”Changing the culture here has probably been one of the toughest things we’ve faced,”” she said. “”It’s still an ongoing process and is the biggest hurdle to overcome.””

The support of the university, however, gives Butts hope for change in the right direction.

“”That’s why I took this job, that’s why I came,”” she said. “”I believe in the support of the administration and our fan base, and as we continue to recruit good athletes and good students, we’re going to absolutely get there.””

A central element to transforming the culture of a program is landing talented recruits. Unlike last season, Butts will take the helm this year able to insert her own recruits into the formula. The offseason saw six additions to the roster, including 2008 Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year Davellyn Whyte.

“”It was really her, honestly,”” said Whyte about Butts’ impact on her decision to come to Arizona. “”She told me you have to work to get where you want. She was honest and said, ‘If you work hard, you’ll have your position where you need to be.'””

With each player bringing a unique set of skills to Arizona, Butts’ upgraded roster will have the chance to move the program a collective step forward. Off to a quick 2-0 start this season, the excitement of an opportunity to rewrite the direction of the program is palpable.

Immediately after being hired as head coach, praise from former coaches and colleagues preceded Butts before she could even set foot in McKale Center.

“”Niya Butts is one of the bright young coaches in the women’s collegiate game,”” said legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summit in a media statement.

The winningest coach in all of NCAA basketball history was not the only Butts supporter.

“”I have worked with no one in my career that has her unique combination of skills to excel as a coach,”” said Matthew Mitchell, the head coach at the University of Kentucky, in a press release. “”I have no doubt in my mind that she will turn Arizona into one of the top programs in the country that will last for many years.””

Butts will face her fair share of challenges, though. She coaches in one of the nation’s elite conferences, with title contender Stanford sitting comfortably atop the Pacific 10 Conference, not to mention ASU and California, which are both capable of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Arizona will also face its share of growing pains with a team full of players who need to rid themselves of the jitters of playing Division I basketball for the first time.

These reasons are probably what influenced the media to pick Butts’ Wildcats to finish ninth in the Pac-10.

Regardless of the speculation surrounding this year’s team, one thing is for sure. Butts’ resistance to settling for mediocrity has permeated throughout the program. It reflects in the way the Wildcats play with passion every time they take the court.

“”We have a brand new team this year and we are excited to get going,”” Butts said. “”We were picked to finish ninth in the conference and our team obviously isn’t happy about that.””

Her players have felt Butts’ impact and trust that she can bring the program out of the Pac-10 basement and into relevancy.

“”That’s fine, it’s politics. We’re not worried about it,”” said senior point guard Ashley Frazier of the media’s prediction. “”(It is) lots of motivation. And we will (use it), trust me.””

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