By Carl Adamec
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Kim Barnes Arico bleeds University of Michigan blue, but she’ll always be a Jersey/New York girl at heart.
“The Midwest is terrific,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s a great place to raise a family and the people in Ann Arbor and the state of Michigan have been so welcoming. The people in Michigan are all about the Block M and all about Michigan. I put on a Michigan t-shirt and go anywhere from California to Paris, France, somebody sees me and goes, ‘Go Blue.’ So it’s just the tradition and the pride, and to be able to work at a University that has all that is incredible. I’m loving it and enjoying it.
“But I had to get used to the pace a little bit and that’s been a bit of a transition. I still stand in line at the supermarket and tap my hand and when I’m getting gas it takes a really long time. But it’s been an incredible experience and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be at Michigan.”
Barnes Arico — who is an assistant to Dawn Staley with USA Basketball’s U-18 national team — wrapped up her second season in the Big Ten with the Wolverines in March. She was hired on April 20, 2012, after spending the previous decade at St. John’s University where she rebuilt the Red Storm program. The Mastic Beach, N.Y., native won 176 games in her time at Queens with four NCAA tournament and three WNIT bids. St. John’s reached the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in 2012, but its signature win was its 57-56 victory over UConn at Gampel Pavilion that ended the Huskies’ NCAA-record 99-game home winning streak.
Michigan went 22-11 in Barnes Arico’s first season, tying the mark for most wins in school history. The Wolverines earned their second straight NCAA tournament bid and advanced to the second round for the first time since 2001. This past season Michigan finished 20-14 and saw its season end with a loss to Bowling Green in the third round of the WNIT. It’s the first time in school history the Wolverines have recorded back-to-back 20-win campaigns.
Barnes Arico signed four players for next season including U-18 invitee Katelynn Flaherty, a point guard from Point Pleasant, N.J.
“I love the direction the program is going in,” Barnes Arico said. “My first year we had a group of seniors that were terrific. They embraced me and welcomed me and they made the transition as smooth as it could be. Last year we had one player returning that saw any minutes from the year before. So for us to get to the point we did and have 20 wins was great.
“Our 2014 class is outstanding led by Katelyn Flaherty, a New Yorker in Maria Backman, and a Maryland girl in Jillian Dunston. I’m excited about them and happy with the way it’s going with the ’15s. I’m excited about our league. I can’t get away from Vivian (Rutgers coach Stringer), we have Rutgers twice this year. I think the direction of our league is super-positive as well.”
Barnes Arico has seen what conference realignment has brought and how it has changed the Big East that she coached in. In 2012, the Red Storm were the No. 2 seed for a league tournament that included UConn, Notre Dame, Louisville, Rutgers, Syracuse, and West Virginia. The Big East now is the Catholic 7, including St. John’s, Butler, Creighton, and Xavier.
Is it different coaching at Michigan than it was at St. John’s?
“A lot of people ask that because I started as a high school coach and worked my way up, and I took a different route than some working at Division II and Division III,” Barnes Arico said. “But basketball is basketball. Our recruiting is a little different. Our style of play is a little different. My first year at Michigan we had a ton of shooters. We’d do shooting drills and we would make twice as many as we did at St. John’s. But at St. John’s I was blessed to have a player like Nadirah McKenith or Shenneika Smith who could make a play at the end of the game. Hopefully that will change for us. I think the Big Ten is actually changing to get more like the Big East of old.”
Of course, the University of Michigan is best known for its football program and it seems it could overwhelm its other sports.
Barnes Arico does not see it that way.
“Having football, especially Michigan football, is an advantage,” she said. “We try not to use it as a dominant thing or taking anything from women’s basketball. To have such tradition and such pride and 120,000 people in a stadium on a fall Saturday afternoon is an incredible experience. People want to be part of that. People that come to play basketball at Michigan want to be a part of that as well.”
For now, Barnes Arico is enjoying her first USA Basketball assignment. The U-18 team will try to qualify for the 2015 U-19 world championships when it takes part in the FIBA Americas tournament Aug. 6-10 here at the United States Olympic Training Center.