Alexa Dettelbach: Barnes Arico reason for Michigan success

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 13, 2014

It’s time to award credit where credit is due.

In one and a half seasons, Kim Barnes Arico has turned the Michigan women’s basketball team into a competitor. This season in particular, the Wolverines are over-performing because of their second-year coach.

Last year, Barnes Arico led Michigan to its best season ever, but it’s easy to dismiss it from her résumé because of the strong batch of seniors she inherited. But whether or not you appreciate what the coach did last season, it’s hard to argue with her early results in 2013-14.

She returned only one starter and 16 percent of her offense from last year, setting the stage for a slow transition year. But her squad has come out shooting on all cylinders.

A very undersized Michigan team currently sits first in the Big Ten at rebounding margin, at plus-9.7 per game.

Oh, and the team is 11-5.

It’s a testament to Barnes Arico’s coaching job that her team has overcome its size disadvantage. From day one, the Wolverines have embraced her coaching style and her vision. Since taking over in Ann Arbor, Barnes Arico has posted a 33-16 record, including a 22-win season last year, which tied the program best.

Her moniker for the squad is, “hardest working team in America,” and it’s hard to argue with that considering its ability to play smart, aggressive basketball. And that starts with Barnes Arico.

Despite the Wolverines falling to Michigan State on Sunday, Barnes Arico’s team outrebounded the Spartans for the first time since 2002. And last season, her squad snagged a win over Michigan State, something her predecessors hadn’t done in 12 tries.

But more than just wins and losses is her impact on individual production. Last season, then-senior forward Kate Thompson exploded onto the scene with her 3-point shot and often credited Barnes Arico for her looks. The coach also helped guide Jenny Ryan as the starting point guard and developed a strong bond with the rest of the 2012-13 seniors as they helped her get acclimated to the University and the Michigan culture.

Barnes Arico has become everything the University wants in a coach. She’s passionate, prepared and even refers to Ohio State as “Ohio” — and she wins.

She gets the best from her players and that’s been apparent this season. Junior forward Cyesha Goree lost weight, improved her physicality and, under her coach’s guidance, has developed into one of the team’s most indispensible players.

Last season, Goree played less than 15 minutes all season. Her previous career high was four points, but Barnes Arico helped Goree put in the work to spur an unbelievable change.

“She keeps me motivated, stays on me and never lets me get too high or too low, keeping me in my place, which I really like,” Goree said. “She keeps pushing me, because there are a lot of things I need to work on. Overall, she’s helping me become a better player and person inside and out.”

Barnes Arico has helped ease the transition for junior-transfer guard Shannon Smith and has guided Smith to a career season, including a 32-point performance against Detroit Mercy.

And once the team got its sea legs, Barnes Arico tinkered with the lineup, moving players around to find the best starting five and developing freshman point guard Siera Thompson and senior Val Driscoll into starters. Thompson in particular has grown significantly under Barnes Arico’s coaching.

In addition to coaching, Barnes Arico has strengthened the Michigan brand on the recruiting trail. Last month, she signed arguably the best class in program history, ranked No. 18 by Prospects Nation. It includes four players in the top 20, according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz.

The future Wolverines’s commitment to their coach says a lot about Barnes Arico, but her game time demeanor also proves illuminating.

She’s very emotional and it shows from the opening tip. She starts most games seated on the bench next to her team, one hand in a fist with the other wrapped around it. When she’s satisfied, her hands relax. She almost always starts with a sweater on, but it’s usually on the back of her chair by the first timeout.

Barnes Arico stands when she’s frustrated or trying to get someone’s attention. She also stands when Michigan makes a good play on defense. Offensive plays don’t get the same excitement, but that’s probably because she expects them.

The second-year coach is a talker, and she jaws on the sidelines to her team and assistant coaches. And while Barnes Arico has a naturally soft voice that easily grows hoarse, her yells during the game can be heard from the upper level. She’s passionate and confident, and that spreads to her team.

After a loss, she’s more deflated than angry. But when the Wolverines win, she’s the happiest person in the room, and there’s always a bounce in her step. Michigan has come a long way in the short time since Barnes Arico took over, and in that time, the maize and blue has become just as important to her.

It’s hard to know where this Michigan team would be without Barnes Arico, but it wouldn’t be here.

— Dettelbach can be reached at adettel@umich.edu and on Twitter @asdettel