One of the biggest challenges for any first-year coach is to make an immediate impact on recruiting for the future. It’s especially difficult for coaches who are hired mid-way through the offseason, like Michigan’s women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico, since they have a late entrance into the sweepstakes for national talent.
But once she arrived in Ann Arbor, it didn’t take long for Barnes Arico to get out on the recruiting trail and start building a roster for the 2013-14 season. On Wednesday, Barnes Arico announced that high schoolers Paige Rakers, Shannon Smith, Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams had signed National Letters of Intent with Michigan.
“I am excited about the young ladies who will be joining our program,” Barnes Arico said. “I think it was really important for us to make inroads and get this first recruiting under our new coaching staff on board.”
As the first four recruits of the Barnes Arico era, the quartet brings an exceptional amount of talent and experience from AAU programs and high school teams. The newest additions to the Wolverines’ roster provide depth at the guard position, which will help replace the offensive production lost from this year’s graduating seniors Jenny Ryan, Rachel Scheffer, Nya Jordan, Kate Thompson and Sam Arnold.
Rakers, a 5-foot-11 guard from Carlyle, Ill., is an outstanding shooter who averaged 19.4 points per game on 44-percent shooting in her junior year of high school. After leading her team to the title game of the Class 2-A Regional, Rakers finished the year with a team-best 52 steals and 49 assists. Last year, she won the Illinois High School Association’s statewide 3-point shooting, earning the name “Queen of the Hill.” In addition to leading her high school team, Rakers also competes on Team Adidas, an AAU team based out of St. Louis.
“She is one of the best shooters that I came across all summer,” Barnes Arico said. “Besides her ability to shoot the basketball, she has a great feel for the game. She is a really good passer and she works incredibly hard.”
Smith will transfer to Michigan from Trinity Valley Community College after spending two redshirt seasons at North Carolina. After a medical redshirt sidelined Smith her freshman year, she averaged three points and 13 minutes per game. With two years of eligibility remaining, Smith will provide her scoring talents and experience of playing in Division I.
The 5-foot-7 guard was heavily recruited out of high school, earning the Associated Press women’s prep co-player of the year in North Carolina during the 2009-10 season. Averaging 23 points and seven assists per game, Smith led Forestview High School to the 3-A state title. She finished her high school career as the leading scorer in Forestview and Gaston County history, and was named North Carolina’s Miss Basketball in 2010.
“Shannon is going to bring, more so than the other freshmen, experience at the highest level,” Barnes Arico said. “I think that with the loss of this senior class after this year, she can come in and bring some experience to our backcourt. She is a tremendous playmaker who has the ability to score, has speed and athleticism.”
The Wolverines’ top-ranked commit is Thompson, who ESPN graded as the 68th-best player in the nation and 15th-best point guard. The Gardena, Calif. native averaged 11 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds in her junior year, while leading Serra to three consecutive section championships. Thompson also plays for AAU’s highly regarded Cal Sparks.
“She is a really tough, strong-nosed point guard who can handle the ball and score while also defending at the highest level,” Barnes Arico said. “I think her experience, growing up and playing against some of the best competition in the country in California, has really prepared her to help us here at Michigan.”
Rounding out the incoming class is Williams, a 5-foot-9 guard ranked 97th in the nation and 28th at her position by ESPN. Williams helped lead St. Mary’s to the Division I Arizona state championship while completing an undefeated 30-0 season. In 2012, St. Mary’s reached the national championship and earned the No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
“I have had the opportunity to watch Danielle play since she has been in the seventh grade,” Barnes Arico said. “I have watched her progress and develop … Her coach, Curtis Ekmark, he has done a phenomenal job with her and making his program one of the best in the country. Once I got the job here, knowing the academic piece was so important for her and her family, he knew it would be a great fit.”
Barnes Arico’s first four commits are expected to be just the start for Michigan’s recruiting process. The Wolverines are already planning to take a foreign trip during next summer’s offseason, which should allow the rookies some extra time to adjust before practices start in the fall.
“Considering this was our first year and I didn’t get hired until late in the recruiting process, I think this is an exceptional class,” Barnes Arico said.
“It was important for us in the process of building our culture to get players that come from winning programs. These young ladies are all from great families and are excellent students. They will represent Michigan in the best way. They are leaders and best in everything that they do.”