October 3, 2022
Adair ready to pave her own path at Arizona State
Taking over for a legend isn't a strange task for Natasha Adair
Natasha Adair has done this before. Well, not this exactly. Taking over an Arizona State program that is looking to reclaim its place among the consistent contenders in the Pac-12 is a new gig.
But coming into a program on the heels of a long-time head coach to put her own cultural and stylistic stamp on the place, that’s old hat for Adair.
She did it first at the University of Charleston, taking over for Nancy Wilson, who had helmed the program for nearly a decade. In 2017, she replaced Tina Martin at Delaware, who was the Blue Hens’ coach for 21 years. Now she succeeds Charli Turner Thorne in Tempe, the second-winningest coach in Pac-12 women’s basketball history who retired last spring after 25 seasons and 488 wins.
“What I’ve learned along the way is that you come in, and you listen,” Adair said, stepping away for a moment from the team’s on–site media day activities, to talk about her transition of the last six months. “You ask questions. You take the time to understand the landscape and the fabric of the program. I want to know what’s important to people.”
The answer to that question is fairly uncomplicated. The people — players, administrators, donors and alums – they all want to win. They all want Arizona State cemented back in the top half of a Pac-12 Conference that’s gotten deeper, more respected and more competitive from top to bottom.
The Sun Devils haven’t finished higher than fifth in the Pac-12 standings in the last six seasons (finishing 9th in each of the past two years), and haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.
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Arizona State has always had one of the strongest identities in the conference, molded in Turner Thorne’s image — tenacious and relentless on the defensive end, a team that would make you play ugly and use almost its entire roster to get there. The program’s most notable alum is Briann January, who retired from the WNBA just a few weeks ago after a long and distinguished career. But ASU isn’t necessarily known as a star-making place, the program one of only four teams never to produce a Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Adair, the first black head coach in program history who went 95-58 at Delaware with consecutive 20-win seasons and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2022, doesn’t want to change the tradition that ASU has built.
“There is a tradition here of winning, integrity, loyalty, trust and hard work,” Adair said. “It’s not a culture of self. And we are going to do what we must do to have sustainable success.”
Which means it’s safe to expect a different style for the Sun Devils.
“I’m different, a different coach. We are going to be transition first,” Adair said. “We are going to defend and rebound and run and score, in that order. When you look at those great ASU teams, they were gritty and they would defense and get up on you, but those teams averaged 75-80 points a game. Early offense for me isn’t a bad thing. We aren’t going to lose that grittiness, but we are going to focus on how we score on offense.”
Adair has six new players on the roster — including three freshmen and three transfers, highlighted by Kentucky transfer Treasure Hunt, who helped to lead the Wildcats to the SEC Tournament title last spring. Junior guard Jadan Simmons is the team’s leading returning scorer.
She is gratified by those players who chose to stay with her to usher in a new era for the program.
“I have spent a lot of time in one-on-ones, learning their ‘why’,” Adair said. “These players have the portal and options when a new coach comes in, but they chose to stay and hold on to their whys. We have people who want to win in life, win on the court and they want to win together.
“We are still trying to figure it out, with a new coach and a new system. But we are going to celebrate the small victories as we do that.”
In the meantime, Adair is counting down the days to the Nov. 7 season opener against Northern Arizona.
“I’m a competitor,” Adair said. “We’ll be ready. We won’t be perfect, but we’ll be ready.”
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Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.