Entering her sixth season at the helm of the Wildcat program, women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts is more energized and driven than ever to continue to build on the strong tradition of Arizona women’s basketball and to take the program to new heights. With a talented class of younger players and an experienced and motivated group of veterans, the 2013-14 season is poised to be a successful stop on the road to greatness.
“Niya Butts is hard-working, energetic and dedicated,” Arizona Athletics Director Greg Byrne said. “She is one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks and we are thrilled to have her here at the University of Arizona. Her commitment to excellence, on and off the court, is unmatched and she continues to build on the tradition of Arizona women’s basketball. She and her staff are great at bringing in and developing young talent. The future is bright for Coach Butts and her squad.”
One of the most sought after young coaches in the country, Arizona named Butts its new women’s basketball head coach on April 3, 2008, ushering in a new era of Wildcat women’s basketball. She is the eighth head coach in the program’s history and the first African American female head coach at the University of Arizona.
“Exciting things are happening in women’s basketball here at the University of Arizona,” Butts said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to coach this team and be part of this team. My staff and I are excited about the direction this team is moving and we will continue to bring in student-athletes who will contribute to our team goals, on and off the court.”
In five seasons, Butts has achieved a number of milestones early on in her head coaching career. During the 2011-12 season, Arizona's 11-1 start was the best in program history since the 1999-2000 season. Butts earned her 70th-career win with UA's 100-68 victory versus Oregon on January 13, 2013.
Senior guard Davellyn Whyte finished her career at Arizona in 2013 as one of the best players in Wildcat women’s basketball history. She was the 16th pick in the WNBA draft to the San Antonio Silver Stars, earned her fourth-straight All-Pac-12 accolade and was named an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American in 2012.
Arizona’s win was the first over Utah since 1985 and broke a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats followed it up with a 61-52 win at home for the first two-game winning streak against the Utes in history. On January 13, UA defeated Oregon, 100-68, scoring 100 points as a team for just the third time since 2009.
During the 2010-11 slate, the Wildcats made their first postseason appearance since the 2004-05 season and their first appearance in the Women’s NIT since the 2000-01 season. Arizona won eight of its last 11 contests. Also in 2010-11, the Wildcats got a win against the Arizona State Sun Devils for the first time since Jan. 26, 2005. The Wildcats’ 10-8 conference record in 2010-11 is their best since the 2004-05 campaign and their 21 wins overall is the most since the 2003-04 season. The 2010-11 season marks the highest finish in the Pac-10 for Arizona (fourth), since tying for the Pac-10 regular-season crown in 2004.
Senior forward Ify Ibekwe and then-sophomore Whyte both earned 2011 All-Pac-10 accolades. Ibekwe was named the 2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the Pac-10 All-Defensive Team. Barnes was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 Freshman Team. In the awards given out by the Pac-10 media, Ibekwe was named All-Pac-10 and a member of the All-Pac-10 Defensive Team. Senior forward Soana Lucet was also named to the 2011 Pac-10 All-Tournament Team by members of the media. Ibekwe capped the season off with her honorable mention Associated Press All-America honor.
Overall, the Wildcats improved from 12 wins in 2008-09, to 14 wins in 2009-10, to 21 wins in 2010-11. In Pac-10 play, Arizona improved from four wins in 2008-09, to six wins in 2009-10, to 10 wins in 2010-11.
During the 2009-10 campaign, the Wildcats posted their highest win total in five seasons while also achieving the most Pac-10 wins for the program in that same span. In their historic win over Oregon on Jan. 16, Arizona scored a school-record 119 points while then-freshman Whyte scored a single-game record 39 points. The Cats won the Iona College Tip-Off Tournament to start the season and wrapped up by advancing to the Pac-10 Tournament Quarterfinals for the second-straight season.
Whyte and then-junior Ibekwe were named first-team All-Pac-10 while Whyte was chosen as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and Ibekwe was named to the all-defensive team. Whyte was the top vote-getter on the five-player Pac-10 All-Freshman Team. Ibekwe repeated both her All-Pac-10 and All-Defensive Team awards after earning the same honors during her sophomore season.
In 2008-09, Butts led the Wildcats to a Bank of Hawaii Classic Tournament Championship in the first weekend of her career, including wins over Hawai’i and Loyola Marymount, and then mentored the Wildcats to the second round of the Pac-10 Tournament, propelled by a win over Washington State. The conference portion of the slate included wins over Oregon and USC and a sweep of Washington.
Then a sophomore, Ibekwe was named to the Associated Press All-America honorable mention team. Ibekwe, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection and first-team All-Pac-10 Defensive Team honoree, led Arizona in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots, free throws, field goals and double-doubles during the 2008-09 slate. She finished the season with 336 rebounds, coming up three shy of the program’s single-season record set in the 2003-04 season. Her 16 double-doubles were also second all-time for a single-season behind the 21 posted in the 2002-03 campaign.
Ibekwe led the Pac-10 and finished sixth in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 11.6. She was also third in the Pac-10 in scoring at 15.7 points per game, while also finishing second in blocked shots (1.8) and 4th in steals (2.1).
Butts came to Tucson from the University of Kentucky where she spent five seasons as an assistant coach. In her final season in Lexington, she served as Kentucky’s associate head coach, and was the program’s recruiting coordinator for three seasons. While at UK, Butts secured two top-10 recruiting classes, solidifying her status as one of the best young coaching talents in the nation.
Butts is no stranger to rebuilding programs. During her tenure at Kentucky, Butts helped coach the Wildcats to an 88-72 record (.550) over five seasons, with a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06 and three WNIT appearances. In her final season, Butts helped lead Kentucky to a 17-16 overall record, an 8-6 mark in the SEC for a fourth-place finish, and a WNIT quarterfinal appearance.
Before her stint at Kentucky, Butts spent the 2002-03 season as an assistant coach at Michigan State. Butts helped coach MSU to a 17-12 overall record that season and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans’ first since 1997. Prior to Michigan State, Butts spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn., leading the Golden Eaglettes to two Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championships in both 2001 and 2002.
Butts played collegiately at the University of Tennessee for Pat Summitt, where she was a four-year letter winner and a member of two NCAA Championship teams (1997, 1998). The Lady Vols won three SEC titles (1998, 1999, 2000) during her tenure, and she was voted the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1997. She also won the Lady Vols’ Unsung Hero Award that season.
Butts was a three-time Academic All-SEC selection (1998, 1999, 2000) and earned Tennessee’s Academic Achiever of the Week four times. She played in 111 career games at UT and graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in psychology. She received a master’s degree in education from Tennessee Tech in 2002.
Butts, 35, is a native of Americus, Ga. She is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
2007-08: Associate Head Coach, Kentucky
2003-07: Assistant Coach, Kentucky
Playing Career at Tennessee
What They Say About Butts
Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee Head Coach
“Niya Butts is one of the bright young coaches in the women’s collegiate game. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for her to take over the reins of her own program at Arizona and to compete in one of the nation’s best conferences – the Pac-10. I see her taking the same qualities I saw in her as a player en route to two NCAA Championships – doing all the little things right – and applying them as a head coach at the University of Arizona.”
Lin Dunn, Indiana Fever Head Coach
“Wow, Arizona sure hit the jackpot. The great thing about Niya is that she has the experience of playing at the championship level and she has great experience coaching in the SEC. That experience will benefit her in building Arizona into a national power. I can’t think of a better young coach to take over at Arizona. She is the best of the best.”
Matthew Mitchell, University of Kentucky Head Coach
“I am thrilled for Niya. She is extremely deserving of her position at Arizona. I have worked with no one in my career that has her unique combination of skills to excel as a coach. 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. She helped take Kentucky from the bottom of the SEC to being one of the top-four teams in a short period of time, a testament to her ability to recruit and coach.”
Debbie Antonelli, TV Analyst
“I have watched Niya in practice and during shoot-arounds and she is one of the most capable and well-prepared young coaches I have seen in the business. She has the pedigree of a champion and I know she will take Arizona to new levels. I am excited for Niya, Arizona, and the Pac-10 to get a young, aggressive, innovative coach to challenge the league quickly. Her hard work during her playing days carried over to the sidelines, and I believe the future will be bright for the Arizona basketball program.”
Mickie DeMoss, Former Kentucky Head Coach
"Niya is certainly one of the game's up and coming young coaches in the country. I've known her since 10th grade when I recruited her as a player to Tennessee. I had the opportunity to hire her at Kentucky, and she hit the road running, making a huge difference to that program, notably in recruiting. She is a driven young lady, very mature and very focused. Arizona is very fortunate to have her."