Each year, men and women from across the country come to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado to train so that they can one day serve their country on the battlefield.
Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico also made the trek to Colorado Springs this summer to represent the United States — on the basketball court.
Barnes Arico was an assistant coach for the USA Basketball U-18 National Team this summer, helping the team win the 2014 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship Tournament with an undefeated record.
“The experience in Colorado was incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “Having the opportunity to put on a USA shirt and represent your country was a phenomenal experience.”
The United States outscored its North and South American counterparts by a combined score of 530-306 over five games, which led to a different problem than one Barnes Arico is used to facing.
“You don’t want to embarrass the competition, while at the same time you want to make sure you’re going hard and getting better,” Barnes Arico said. “So it’s a fine line and balance of trying to do that, but it also gives the opportunity for everyone to play.”
But even while rolling past opponents, the tournament victory didn’t come without its difficulties — especially when it was three college coaches training 12 high schoolers.
“That was a little bit of transition when you have 12 kids who have never experienced a college practice,” Barnes Arico said.
The players, while all talented, came from different backgrounds. While some hailed from well-rounded high school programs, others came from environments where they were the superstar and never had a competitive practice. The biggest challenge was getting those players up to speed with the rest of the team.
USA Basketball stresses an appreciation of playing for the country, which helped the transition.
“They want to be great. So when they have the chance to work with college coaches before they go to college, they embrace that experience,” Barnes Arico said. “USA Basketball does a phenomenal job of really saying how fortunate and how blessed they are to have this opportunity and to be respectful of it, to be mature about the opportunity.”
The experience also gave Barnes Arico a chance to work with Dawn Staley, whom Barnes Arico calls “one of the best women’s basketball players ever” and now coaches at No. 2 South Carolina.
Staley, who owns three Olympic gold medals for her play in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games, is known for her vocal leadership on the sidelines, which is similar to Barnes Arico’s coaching style.
Except in this situation, Barnes Arico had to take a backseat.
“I’ve only ever been a head coach so it was a great experience for me to learn from somebody else and have the assistant role, watch (Staley) work and assist her in any way I possibly could,” Barnes Arico said. “It was a good opportunity to have a different role.”
The tournament win qualified the United States for the FIBA U-19 World Championship, which will be held next year in Russia. The United States has won that tournament the last five times it has been held.
The FIBA Americas U-18 Championship is supposed to be “a little bit easier” than the World Championships, though there is no denying that the leadership of Staley, Barnes Arico and Louisville coach Jeff Walz helped the United States to victory.
But when asked if she would get a chance to coach in the World Championships or for her country in the future, Barnes Arico said she had no idea.
She may have enjoyed her time with the red, white and blue, but now she turns her focus to the maize and blue.
While Michigan certainly won’t have it as easy as the United States did this summer, Barnes Arico’s summer experience will be an invaluable lesson as the Wolverines start their own season.