Dec. 14, 2009
It's not an official Homecoming game for either Georgia Tech or Arizona this Sunday at the Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta, but it will be in the figurative sense for Arizona women's basketball head coach Niya Butts.
A Georgia native, Butts returns to her home state as the Wildcats take on #25-ranked Georgia Tech. Butts grew up in Americus, a city in Western Georgia located approximately 150 miles south of Atlanta. The city measures just over 10 square miles and boasts a population of around 16,500.
A large contingent of Butts' friends and family are planning on making the three-hour trek north on I-75 into downtown Atlanta while many others will travel from all over the South to view the game.
Butts sat down to talk about her first game in her home state as head coach, having her mother nearby and the support of her hometown fans.
What does it mean for you personally to be able to go home and show the people who have followed your career as a player and now as a coach where you are at?
"It obviously feels pretty good. The support has been really good. I've received so many emails, so many calls, so many text messages from people that have supported me over the years saying they will definitely be at the game. It always is a good feeling to go home like that and certainly go home to a crowd full of people that really care about you and really follow and support me."
What are you hoping the team gets out of the trip to Georgia in regards to culture, the sites of downtown Atlanta, etc.?
"We like to give the girls an opportunity to see something different. Georgia is certainly different than Arizona. The girls will see a lot more green, a lot more trees, and I expect it will be a little colder than it has been in Arizona. We'll take them to the Aquarium. I think that will be a good experience for them to see some things. Most of all, I think going there and having an understanding of the importance of seeing different parts of the country. As you go through college, sometimes you don't get those opportunities. I think they should cherish those moments and understand how blessed and fortunate they are."
How do you prepare for a team like Georgia Tech that may present some new challenges?
"I think the number one thing is that we give our kids as much confidence as we can give them. Coming off a loss like we did against New Mexico, it's important for us to get back to doing the things the way we know how to do them and not focus so much on the next opponent. However, that being said, Georgia Tech is certainly a quality program with quality coaches and quality players. We have to do our job when we play them on Sunday of really staying disciplined and really staying focused and understanding the opportunity we have to go in there, on the road facing a ACC opponent and come out with the win would be huge for our program."
Having grown up in a small town like Americus, what do you take from your upbringing that you use in dealing with the young women on your team who all have their own unique experiences?
"The one thing that I'm very thankful for is where I came from. The people in my town are great people. They are really supportive of their own, so to speak. It's a small town with not a lot of industry in terms of opportunity. I saw a lot of good things and I saw a lot of bad things. The one thing I did see and learn from the people in my town was that it didn't matter where you're from or the circumstances around you. You can make it anywhere, but you have to be determined, you have to be focused and you have to have some support, whether that be from your family, your community or whomever. I think the lessons I always try to tell them is that you don't have to be from a rich family or be from a big town. It doesn't matter. You can make it, but you have to believe you can make it. You have to be really willing to work and to try. I think when the girls hear that message, I think they really understand how blessed they are and don't take anything for granted."
What do you hope to show all of the people from Americus and what do you want them to get out of the game and the experience of the team being in town?
"First of all, I hope they see a win by Arizona. Outside of that, I want them to see a good basketball game. I want them to see young ladies, young women out there on the floor. I want them to see one of their own, so to speak, able to go out and do some positive things and hopefully get some enjoyment out of that. The one thing about it is, especially in our town, if you're from Americus and you do good things, then everyone else from Americus is doing good things because we really take pride in people who are successful, whether they are family people, military folks or whomever. We really do a good job of supporting each other. When I'm out there doing my thing, I think everyone in Americus feels like they are too and that's what it's all about."
How special is it having your mother in town lately and having her accompany the team on this trip and being able to share in these experiences?
"I think it's awesome. I keep using the word "blessed", but I truly am to be afforded an opportunity so that I can travel with my Mom and she can see these things. Most of all, it keeps me grounded and keeps things in perspective. After all, as much as I love the game, as much passion as I have for the game, it truly is a game. It's an avenue for young women and young men to do some wonderful things. It's a great game that can teach you a lot of lessons about life. We also have to understand that our families, the people that we care about the most, our health should always be taken into consideration and there has to be perspective on everything. The most important thing was having her here, especially after the New Mexico loss, was a big dose of reality when I get home and understanding that as upset as I am, as much attention as I want to pay to the game with what we did and what we didn't do, I still have to keep perspective and stay grounded in order to be successful in this business."