Former Fairfield star Jill Barta preparing for WNBA draft, ready for anything

SPOKANE —Jill Barta doesn’t quite know what the next phase of her life will hold.

But the former Fairfield basketball star who never lost a game in high school is ready for anything. Barta recently announced her intentions to forego her senior season at Gonzaga, where she’s stood out for the Bulldogs the past two seasons.

“The last two months actually went by super fast,” Barta said after leading Gonzaga to another West Coast Conference championship. “I talked to my parents, and they were like, ‘If that’s your decision, make these last two months what you want them to be. Go out there, try as hard as you can, don’t have any regrets. If you think this is what you want, you need to make sure, make darn sure this is exactly what you want.’”

This is what Barta wants, even if she doesn’t yet know what this is.

She talks excitedly about potentially utilizing her special education degree, which will become official later this spring, and beginning her teaching career in Montana. But basketball isn’t out of the picture just yet. Barta, a 6-foot-3 forward with some guard-like skills, has declared herself eligible for the WNBA draft on April 12.

She signed with an agent last weekend, removing any possibility of continuing her college career as a graduate transfer. Student-athletes who obtain their degree can immediately use their remaining eligibility at another university, but that won’t be the case for Barta. After earning first-team all-West Coast Conference honors three consecutive seasons, including the conference player of the year nod this past year, she had options from all over the country. Programs from the Pac-12, SEC and Big Sky Conference, among others, came calling, only to be rebuffed by the ready-to-move-on Barta.

“I thought about it for quite a while. It wasn’t something that just kind of popped up overnight,” Barta said of the decision to end her college career. “I said something in January (in an interview with MTN Sports), but even before that, going into the season, I told myself, ‘I think I’m ready to be done this year.’ I’m really excited to start my career as what I want to do in life, whether that be the next step in my life starting to be a teacher or the next step of my life of still playing basketball at a professional level. I just had that feeling that I kind of knew I wanted to be done with college a little bit. I’ve enjoyed all four of my years here. Nothing wrong with school, nothing wrong with anything. It’s been the biggest blessing ever, but you kind of know when you’re ready to be done.”

Barta, who finished her Gonzaga career ranking seventh in program history with 1,620 points, loved Spokane, as it quickly became a second home for the native Montanan. The next phase of her life could bring Barta back home, or it could take her to any of 12 WNBA cities.

Internet mock drafts have recently linked Barta to the Atlanta Dream, but more information will be available soon. Barta is on her way to Columbus, Ohio for this weekend’s combine, which provides draft-eligible players the opportunity to play and work out in front of coaches and scouts.

At this point, Barta has no idea if she has a future in the WNBA. Even if she’s selected in the draft, she would still have to earn a roster spot with her training camp and preseason performances. WNBA teams must trim their rosters to 12 players on May 17 in advance of the 2018 season opener.

“I want the WNBA,” Barta said, acknowledging she’s perused mock drafts to see where she might be headed.

“But no matter what, I’ll still graduate with my degree in special education, get certified in Montana and hopefully start teaching next year, if (the WNBA doesn’t work out),” she added. “Even if it doesn’t happen right away and I’m playing basketball, that’s always what I’m going to fall back on, too, and look forward to, is coming home, whether it be this year, next year, years after if I’m still playing professionally.”

When — and to hear Barta talk, it is a matter of when, not if — she’s back in Montana teaching, she plans to repay the community that’s provided so much support during her high school and college basketball careers.

“Just because I gave up my last year (of college eligibility) doesn’t mean I gave up the game of basketball. I still want to be involved as much as I can and help out where and when I can,” Barta said. “Teaching is obviously something I really enjoy, coaching is right up the alley with that. I think there’s a lot of people from Montana that have respect and kind of look up to me a little bit, so that’s definitely something I would want to give back to the state of Montana, is coming back, doing coaching camps, clinics, doing whatever I can to help out.”

Jill Barta doesn’t quite know where the next phase of her life will take her.

But she’s ready for anything.

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