NCAAW: Arizona Wildcats’ Cate Reese stronger after facing adversity

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It turns out basketball hasn’t always come easy to Arizona Wildcat Cate Reese, who is in her fifth and final year at the school. In fact, the sport was a bit of a struggle when she was looking for something to occupy her during the winter and her parents signed her up.

Reese laughs, “I started playing basketball, but I was not good. I was the last person that always played and was traveling all the time.” Luckily for her and Wildcats fans alike, fate stepped in. In fifth grade, Reese and her family connected with an AAU team that allowed her more playing time and the ability to come to practice early to work out.

“My mom would take me early to practice and I would work out with the coach. I started to get better, and in middle school, I really started to like it, and just blossomed from there.”

From that point on, Reese was hooked. She made varsity her freshman year of high school and went to state with her team; as she puts it, “After that, I really didn’t look back.”

However, basketball wasn’t the only thing on Reese’s mind in high school. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, the same diagnosis her older sister had received years earlier. Reese explains, “I was diagnosed in my sophomore year of high school. At that point, I was really upset — my sister was diagnosed in fifth grade … I just knew all the stuff she has to go through being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.”

As she says, one of the more frustrating aspects of having diabetes is that she’s had to educate people over and over again. She explains, “A lot of people aren’t really aware of what diabetes is and how there’s a difference between Type 1 and Type 2. I try to teach people as much as I can, especially my teammates.”

By the time she was diagnosed, Reese had already been dealing with a lot of symptoms. She shares, “I was actually at an AAU tournament and I had just lost so much weight, I was looking really pale, sick … I had to go to the bathroom all the time. I would sit at the bench, drink a whole Gatorade, and still be thirsty. We were driving home from San Antonio and my mom said, ‘Ali can just test you.’” Her sister checked Reese’s blood sugar, which was “so high that the meter couldn’t read it.”

After an adjustment period, Reese was back in the game. These days, her diagnosis doesn’t get in her way. In fact, hardly anything does.

Reese, who is from Cypress, Texas, was recruited by Arizona in 2018, an offer she couldn’t turn down because it gave her the opportunity to join her older sister on the same team. She entered the recruitment season as a five-star recruit and ESPN ranked her the 12th-best player in her class. Despite receiving offers from a number of schools, including scholarships from Baylor and South Carolina, Reese was committed to the Wildcats.

Choosing Arizona was also about more than family. Reese explains, “I started getting recruited by Arizona my junior year, maybe the end of my sophomore year. I just fell in love with the idea that I could come in, set that foundation to be great for Arizona, to be a Top 10 team, a Top 20 team. I wanted to be an impact player wherever I went. That was a huge thing for me.”

The school itself also made it easy to choose. In addition to her coach, Adia Barnes, Reese says she loves the area and the surrounding college town, “especially now, since we get so many fans. I fell in love with all of it.”

Reese is staring down her final year at Arizona. She is grateful for every moment — and there have been a lot of good moments. One of her favorite highlights so far has been making it to the Final Four and the NCAA championship game in her junior year. Reese explains that it was “exciting” to make it that far, especially after her sophomore year was cut short by COVID-19.

She adds, “It was exciting to see it through and complete the dreams we all had in mind … we all wanted to be the foundation for Arizona to be good, and to get good players.”

Of course, the time has managed to go by much faster than Reese ever could have dreamed it would, even with that extra fifth year.

Last year might have been one of her toughest yet. Reese dislocated her shoulder around seven minutes into a match against Washington State, an injury that was worse than she and her team initially thought. She says, “It was a seven-month recovery — when I went into surgery, they were supposed to go in microscopically but then they had to cut a four-inch incision and screw in nylon screws to regrow the muscle back to my shoulder.” Laughing, she adds, “They said I was an overachiever, so at least there’s that.”

Watching her teammates play over the summer of 2022 was tough, especially when she was battling rehab daily. But, in the end, the injury made her stronger. As she puts it, “It made me realize that there’s adversity that you can get through. That was one of my first serious injuries I’ve ever had.”

Happily, she’s completely recovered now. She adds, “Looking back now, I’m really happy with how positive I was throughout (the experience).”

As many NCAA fans are aware, and as Reese is certainly aware, there are a lot of possibilities for basketball players after college, and she wants it all.

“I’m definitely looking to go pro after this. I have to have a good season to go to the WNBA, but I’ve always believed in myself. I’ve always pushed myself, and I’ve done things that people didn’t think I could do. For me, that’s definitely my future. I want to go pro, I want to play overseas, I want to do all of that … I’ve been in college for long enough now. It’s time to move on to the next chapter. I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to in college, and I feel like I can accomplish more.”

For now, Reese is completely locked in to Arizona’s season. When asked if there are any teams or players she has to mentally prepare to go up against, Reese was polite but clear. She says, “I go into every team the same. I have the same mindset going in every game. I’ve beaten everyone in the conference since I’ve been here — it’s just any other game to me.”

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