Getting To Buy-In

Aarika Hughes, head coach of LMU women’s basketball, was hired in April 2021.

Aarika hughes, LMU’s new women’s basketball head coach who was hired this past April, takes the lead seat on a Division 1 bench for the first time in her career. But she brings a notable pedigree to the assignment. 

Hughes previously helped lead three programs: USC, New Mexico State University and University of New Mexico. In her five years at NMSU, the Aggies made two trips to the NCAA tournament while claiming two Western Athletic Conference titles. In four seasons at USC, where she also starred as a player and was team captain, Hughes helped sign two recruiting classes that were ranked nationally in the top seven and that included three McDonald’s All-American players.

Her work was noticed. The Athletic magazine named Hughes among its top 21 assistant coaches for 2021, and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association named her among its “Thirty Under 30” top coaches.

Hughes says that defining the LMU program under her tenure began the day she was hired — laying a culture known for “doing things the right way.” Still just months into her tenure, that starts with phone calls and meetings with returning players as well as recruits and their parents.

On the court, Hughes aims for an up-tempo style of play that emphasizes defensive skills, defensive rebounding and turnovers, combined with athleticism. Developing recruited players after they are on campus will be a focal point for success, she says. 

Just as important to identifying one’s path to success is understanding how a sport evolves.  The game of basketball is in flux, she says, with more emphasis on pace, long-range shooting and defense. That the men’s professional game has changed is obvious, but the NBA’s evolving style of play also is shaping the game across the board.

“The NBA is always the leader in how the game evolves,” Hughes says. “The professional women’s game is catching up, and the men’s college game is starting to catch up. We’re starting to see it in the women’s college game, as well.”

“Right now, in order to compete, you have to have an ability to get shots,” Hughes explains. “Playing at the three-point line has become extremely valuable, so being able to extend defenses while playing at a high pace is important. Decision-making, playing the pick and roll and the physicality of the game also are ways the game has evolved.”

Hughes is just as analytical about what may be her important task ahead.

“The greatest challenge is putting a product on the floor that will make people come out and watch,” she says. “There are a lot of things to do in Los Angeles: Lakers, Clippers, USC, UCLA, Chargers, Rams, Dodgers, soccer. What are we going to do to make people buy in? My job is to make sure that the product out on the floor is worth putting out there, and to make this program something that people want to be part of.”