Seattle has been important city in her basketball career as she won a championship with the Storm and worked as an analyst. The No. 10 Huskies and Wildcats tip off at 8 p.m. from Hec Ed.
Friday night is going to be weird. There’s just no way around it.
Adia Barnes knows it. So does the Washington women’s basketball team.
And that’s OK because any strange feelings that may arise from the second reunion between Barnes, the former UW assistant and Arizona coach, and the Huskies will be mitigated by the joy of them all being together again.
“I’m really excited about coming back,” said Barnes, who coached five years at Washington and played three years with the Storm. “For the first time ever I’m returning to the city of Seattle in a different role. Seattle was home to me for 14 years. I still have a home there. I still have a lot of my best friends there.
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“I built so many relationships outside of basketball and in basketball and at UW. … I’m not going to lie, it’s going be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever been involved in.”
During Washington’s 93-70 win at Arizona on Jan. 13, there were moments when Barnes couldn’t resist helping her former team.
“There was one play in the game when Deja (Strother) was upset and I said ‘It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.’ ” Barnes said. “At the end of the day, I really do care for them. Yeah you want to win, but I have a relationship with Deja that goes back to when she was in the seventh and eighth grade.”
UW coach Mike Neighbors doesn’t expect Friday’s 8 p.m. game at Alaska Airlines Arena will be as emotional as their first encounter with Arizona.
Still, there are plenty of unresolved feelings that’ll likely be expressed during Barnes’ first homecoming.
“The first time — just like anything else — things are magnified, but those emotions will still always be there,” Neighbors said. “I don’t think it will ever completely go away. She’s somebody that is very special to me.
“These kids … they all have their unique relationship with her that we chose to not put a damper on in any shape, form or fashion. Even though it’s a conference opponent, we embrace it and be the people we are and we’ll figure out how to deal with the emotions.”
Seattle has been really good to Barnes.
She bounced around the WNBA for four years while playing for three teams (Sacramento, Minnesota and Cleveland) before reviving her pro career with the Storm where she won a 2004 championship.
After her playing days, the San Diego native began a career in broadcasting and served as the Storm’s analyst.
In Seattle Barnes, 40, started her foundation and married husband Salvo Coppa, an Arizona assistant, here. She also gave birth to their son, 18-month-old, Matteo here.
And this is where Barnes began her coaching career in 2011 as a UW assistant.
“This city is home and it’ll always hold a special place in my heart,” Barnes said. “The city has been everything to me. Seattle is a place that I love and will always be close to my heart. That’s why I kept my home there. I love it. I think I grew so much there.”
Barnes’ close ties with the Huskies made leaving difficult.
She couldn’t pass on the chance to return to Arizona where she won the 1998 Pac-10 Player of the Year award and was a three-time all-conference pick.
“I was mad for sure, but I wasn’t like mad at her,” said UW’s Chantel Osahor, who is Matteo’s godmother. “It was like dang. It just hit me. It wasn’t like I could do anything about it. I’m happy for her. She’s doing great.”
There was skepticism among Pac-12 observers about giving the Arizona job to a first-year head coach considering the massive scale of the reclamation project. The Wildcats were 13-19 and 3-15 in the Pac-12 last season and haven’t had a winning season since 2011.
“It doesn’t matter how many books you read or how many seminars you go to or how many mentors you have, when you’re the one that has to make those split-second decisions it’s different,” Neighbors said. “But she was ready to make those. She’s going to make mistakes just like we all do, but she’s got the background to make the majority of them right and know to fix the ones that she messes up.”
Arizona started 9-2 in nonconference games, but is just 2-10 in the Pac-12 and 11-12 overall.
“We’re getting better,” Barnes said. “We’re learning how to win and what it takes to win. It’s a process and we’re improving. We’re playing a lot of top teams really tough. … We’re trying to get over the hump.”
Barnes admits upsetting No. 10 Washington (22-3, 10-2) will be a tall task for Arizona, which is riding a six-game losing streak.
“Washington is going to have a big crowd a lot of people there,” she said, alluding to UW’s first sellout in its previous home game. “They’re one of the best teams in the country. We know it’s going to be a really hard game. We’re going to have to play well and catch them on an off night.
“They’re a tough team for sure, but we have nothing to lose. We’re the underdogs there. We’re expected to lose so we have no pressure.”