- Austen Hufford/Daily
By Glenn Miller Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published October 10, 2012
After a long summer of recruiting and adjusting to her new environment in Ann Arbor, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico now has to determine the ideal lineup to fit her transition-oriented style of play. More importantly, Barnes Arico needs to find a point guard who can lead her fast-paced offensive attack.
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The Wolverines’ competition for point-guard has yielded a few potential candidates, but it remains to determine who will emerge as a consistent leader to carry out Barnes Arico’s game plan.
Senior guard Jenny Ryan led the team with 132 assists last season, while the rest of the team combined for 189 assists total. In addition, Ryan turned the ball over just 53 times in 32 games and led the team in steals with 98.
“I was really impressed when I was looking over the stats last year and saw Jenny Ryan’s assist-to-turnover ratio and she didn’t run the point,” Barnes Arico said. “So when I saw that, I called her in immediately and asked, ‘How does this happen?’ ”
While Ryan’s 2011 stats may seem similar to those of a natural point guard, Barnes Arico will most likely utilize Ryan’s scoring abilities elsewhere. Last year’s departing seniors Courtney Boylan and Carmen Reynolds averaged a combined 21.3 points per game, leaving a sizable void in Michigan’s offense. Ryan, who scored the fifth-most points for the Wolverines in 2011, will need to contribute as a scoring threat on the wing rather than bringing the ball up the court.
“Even though she didn’t run the point for us, she had a way to get everyone involved,” Barnes Arico said. “I think Jenny may (play point guard) at times but I don’t think that’s the strength of her.”
Barnes Arico will instead have to rely on the play of two youthful point guards in sophomore Brenae Harris and freshman Madison Ristovski. Harris, who played in 22 games as a freshman, had a .426 field-goal percentage but has yet to start for Michigan.
"You can tell I'm a different player when I'm out there," Harris said. "I'm more confident, and that allows me to dribble better, make better decisions, pass better, and then shoot better."
Harris had 11 assists and 11 steals in her rookie campaign, but she considers herself a better defensive player. Barnes Arico commented that Harris has been one of the most improved players during the offseason, and the Wolverines will utilize Harris’ defensive abilities to pressure teams. Last year, Harris was often brought into games as a defensive specialist because Boylan was undersized. With one season under her belt, Harris feels she is a more confident player, especially on defense.
“Defense tends to be a strength for me, but defense leads to offense,” Harris said.
On the other hand, Ristovski comes to Michigan as a highly-ranked recruit out of Sterling Heights with the potential to start in her first year. At University Liggett High School, Ristovski earned the 2012 Michigan Miss Basketball Award and was also named the 2012 Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year. She was the No. 1 rated player in the state of Michigan as a senior, averaging 20 points, eight assists, and six rebounds per game. Ristovski has caught Barnes Arico’s attention, as well as her teammates’.
“I think she can really be a special player for us,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s bought into the Michigan way and the culture we’re trying to establish. She’s been great early on, one of the most impressive players we’ve had in practice.”
For Ristovski, it’s been a challenge to adapt to the increased paced of college basketball, but it’s one that she admits she enjoys. Ristovski did extra conditioning in the summer, which should help her in Barnes Arico’s fast-paced offense that requires a speedy, efficient point guard.
“I’ve played the point guard position ever since I was little,” Ristovski said. “I always learned how to push the ball up. So hopefully if I get a chance to play, that’s what I can bring to the table — getting the offense going.”
There’s no doubt that Ristovski possesses the talent and skill to be an effective point guard for the Wolverines, but it’s her lack of experience that may cause concern for Barnes Arico.
“I don’t know if I’ll go with the senior person that’s done it for four years at the beginning and let Madison work her way in, or if I’m going to throw Madison right into the fire,” Barnes Arico said.
Between Ryan, Harris and Ristovski, Michigan is full of options at its point guard position, and may be able to use a combination of the three for a powerful backcourt. For now, Barnes Arico can only experiment with who will direct the offense, but time will tell which of these young players will emerge as a future leader for the Wolverines.
Clarification: A quote was substituted into the original version of this story for added context.