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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    New coach: Butts in at UA

    Niya Butts
    Niya Butts

    The Arizona women’s basketball program hired its eighth head coach yesterday with the addition of Niya Butts, who replaces Joan Bonvicini.

    A private search firm concluded its three-week hunt with the addition of Butts, who arrives in Tucson after serving five seasons as an assistant with the Kentucky women’s basketball program and earning two national titles while playing for Tennessee.

    “”This is a critical hire for the University of Arizona because it’s a new era,”” said UA athletic director Jim Livengood, who described Butts as a “”home run”” hire. “”It’s a chance for us to get better, a chance for us to move forward. This young lady is a great fit for Wildcat women’s basketball.””

    Livengood fired Bonvicini, the UA’s coach for the past 17 years, March 17, prompting an immediate nationwide search headed by UA senior associate athletics director Kathleen “”Rocky”” LaRose.

    Niya Butts timeline:
    2007-2008 Associate head coach at Kentucky

    2003-2007 Assistant coach at Kentucky

    2002-2003 Assistant coach at Michigan State

    2000-2002 Coached as an assistant at Tennessee Tech while receiving a master’s degree in education.

    1996-2000 Four-year player at Tennessee, where she won two national titles.

    Butts became aware of the vacancy when Bonvicini’s firing became public and said she immediately seized the opportunity.

    “”You are always aware of Arizona – the moment this job came open, I thought, ‘Wow that would be a super opportunity, super chance if I could get in the mix for that job,'”” Butts said. “”I was contacted by someone and asked if I would be interested.

    “”I go, ‘Hmm, is that a trick question?’ At that point in time, I’m thinking, Who wouldn’t be interested in the University of Arizona?””

    After the initial interview with Butts, LaRose said she felt ready to “”move forward”” through a pool of more than 25 candidates, allowing Butts to settle in and adjust without losing potential recruiting time.

    The NCAA deems this week’s Final Four as a dead period when coaches aren’t allowed to recruit.

    Now the Pacific 10 Conference’s youngest head coach, the 30-year-old Butts, an Americus, Ga. native, served as Kentucky’s recruiting coordinator during the program’s school-record four consecutive post-season tournament bids. The Wildcats went 88-72 with one NCAA Tournament and three WNIT appearances.

    Her contract duration and salary have not yet been determined, Livengood said. With a conference-low $139,000 contract, Bonvicini served the second-longest coaching tenure in the Pac-10.

    Butts faces the task of rebuilding and rejuvenating a program that has gone 29-63 the past three seasons, including 11-43 in Pac-10 games.

    She said she plans to maximize her opportunity by exhibiting a highly touted work ethic.

    “”She has been the most tremendous experience for me working with her,”” said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell in a phone interview yesterday. “”I hate to see her go, but I just think she has worked very hard to prepare herself … for this opportunity.

    “”I think (Arizona) just made a really, really good choice today.””

    The transition from giving suggestions to making decisions is among the biggest leaps from assistant to head coach. The responsibilities Mitchell gave Butts at Kentucky should ease the adjustment, he said, after Mitchell named Butts the associate head coach last season.

    “”I really gave her a lot of responsibility and gave her an opportunity to make decisions,”” Mitchell said. “”That’s the biggest change. I just think it’s a transition that Niya will handle.””

    Added Butts of her opportunity: “”I’m ready to pour my heart and soul into it, and I hope that comes across in everything I do. Most of all, I don’t know who would have more passion than I would.””

    LaRose got her first look at Butts in 1997 during a visit to Washington, D.C. with the Arizona men’s basketball team. As a standout with the Tennessee Lady Vols, Butts won national championships in 1997 and 1998 under Pat Summitt.

    LaRose took a photo of the Lady Vols at the White House, unknowingly capturing the future of Arizona’s women’s basketball.

    “”Niya Butts is one of the bright young coaches in the women’s collegiate game,”” Summitt said in a release. “”I see this as a tremendous opportunity for her to take over the reigns of her own program at Arizona and to compete in one of the nation’s best conferences – the Pac-10.””

    Butts’ first move will be determining and selecting her personnel. While assistants Bernard Scott and Jonelle Streed remain from Bonvicini’s staff, Butts said she will evaluate the future soon.

    “”I definitely have people in mind; however, my staff is not complete,”” she said. “”You win with people. I will be talking to (Scott and Streed).””

    Butts held a team meeting Wednesday to become acquainted with players and determine the team’s style.

    “”We met her yesterday and I really like her,”” said senior guard Jessica Arnold, who has one more year of eligibility remaining but has to yet decide whether to take it. “”I like what she has to bring and has to offer to us. I think she’s going to be great to the program.””

    Added junior forward Sarah Hays: “”I’m really excited. I like her a lot and I think it’ll be really good for our program.””

    Despite favoring the Southeastern Conference’s fast-tempo play, Butts said she’ll evaluate the team’s ability to maximize success – one of her goals in the meeting.

    “”You cannot play that way if you do not have the personnel and if you don’t have some of the factors in that,”” Butts said. “”You have to be smart about that.””

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