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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Butts tours Tucson

    Arizona womens basketball head coach Niya Butts talks with the media during an April 4 press conference in McKale Center. Butts is currently touring the Tucson area making various public appearances, most recently at the Tucson Downtown Sertoma Club
    Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts talks with the media during an April 4 press conference in McKale Center. Butts is currently touring the Tucson area making various public appearances, most recently at the Tucson Downtown Sertoma Club

    Arizona’s newly appointed women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts is on a mission. The objective: to bring excitement back to the program, one which has suffered countless setbacks during its current three-year stretch without a winning season.

    Wednesday, Butts made one of a series of public appearances she has planned as a guest speaker at the Tucson Downtown Sertoma Club in an effort to raise awareness and enthusiasm for the recently restructured Arizona program.

    “”I’m just trying to get out there and get people into those stands,”” Butts said. “”I’ve done quite a few (appearances) and I plan to do as many more as I can as long as it doesn’t interfere with my basketball.””

    Throughout her 30-minute talk, the former Kentucky associate head coach introduced herself starting with her childhood days in her home state of Georgia up through winning back-to-back championships under head coach Pat Summit at Tennessee.

    The well-spoken southerner then proceeded to explain her plans for Arizona and how she expects to turn a 2008 team that finished 10 games below .500 during a season riddled with injuries and off-the-court turmoil into a contender in the Pacific 10 Conference.

    “”I want to play fast, I want to push in transition, however, my main quality will be defending,”” Butts said. “”Because you can score 102 points, but if you cannot play defense and keep them from scoring 103, you’re in trouble.

    “”I know offense sells tickets, but so does winning. And if you want to win you have to defend.””

    Butts admitted molding a strong defensive team from one that allowed over 68 points per game in 2008 will take time, especially with several incoming freshman having been recruited to fit former head coach Joan Bonvicini’s philosophies.

    The Wildcats will welcome seven newcomers next fall who will help fill the shoes left by several key players Arizona lost since the end of the season.

    Arizona’s most notable losses being standout guard Ashley Whisonant – who finished her career fifth among the Wildcats’ all-time scorers – as well as forwards Rhaya and Rheya Neabors, frequent starters both of whom chose to transfer following the season.

    Due to the inevitable construction to the program, Butts said although she expects improvement this season, the results many fans crave may take some time.

    “”Talent-wise I know most of you want to hear (we’re there) right now,”” Butts said. “”That’s what I want to have happen too, but realistically when taking over a program and getting that first recruiting class as freshmen, their sophomore year is really when you start to turn the corner.””

    With her team certain to be a young one and with two of the team’s top returning starters only sophomores, leadership was another topic Butts addressed Wednesday.

    “”I think the leaders will emerge,”” Butts said. “”I don’t think leadership is something you can appoint. I think natural leaders will come forward and if they don’t it’s the coaches job to be the leaders and show them the proper direction to go.””

    Last season leadership became an issue late in the year when senior Whisonant and teammate Rheya Neabors walked out of a team meeting prior to the Pac-10 Tournament.

    In response, Bonvicini left the players off the tournament roster, a move freshman standouts Ify Ibekwe and Tasha Dickey -likely to be new leaders on the team -outwardly supported.

    With Arizona’s strengths and weaknesses still waiting for the first official practice to become apparent, Butts said she will continue touring the Tucson area gathering support for what she hopes to be a resurrection of the women’s basketball program in the meantime.

    But she will not be alone. Butts said she plans on putting her players in the public spotlight as well to not only endorse the team but also give back to the Tucson community.

    “”I want to do as much as we can in the fall without interfering with academics or basketball,”” Butts said of her team’s future community outreach. “”What I want first is for (the players) to give back to the community. And then also I want them to get out there to be seen and to promote our game.

    “”That is something that is going to be critical in the success of our team.””

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