They almost never stop moving at the Crisler Center. Not this Wednesday afternoon, and certainly not any time in the future.
The Wolverines move up and down the court, stopping only when they have to wait their turn to return to the drill. Today, one group runs down to simulate a transition while the defense sprints back to stop.
Three members of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s practice squad, which consists of at least five males along with other females, enter as substitution on offense. The three men run down the court on offense — because there is no stopping in practice — but miss a shot attempt. Senior guard Shannon Smith gets the ball after a rebound and beats one of the men down the court to score.
So the practice squad member touches the baseline and begins running back down, just as any other player would.
This is the hallmark of Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico’s team: No matter who you are, you must be willing to work. Her team is 2-0 as a result of it, and it could be poised for a big year.
In a day and age in Michigan athletics when coaching is hot a topic, Barnes Arico is quietly putting on a clinic, providing a handful of lessons on how to lead a successful team.
1) In order to build a strong program, you must first temper expectations:
When Barnes Arico came from St. John’s two years ago, she inherited a group of five seniors, all of whom had developed their roles. There were shooters, defenders, ball handlers and role players who worked well together, making it to the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
But Barnes Arico knows opportunities like that are rare. They can make you look good, but they aren’t necessarily replicable.
That’s why she’s honest and open about her team. Last year, she said she “didn’t know what to expect” before the Wolverines surprised teams on their way to the quarterfinals of the WNIT. And this year, she’s looking for players to “be who they are,” and “not try to do too much,” because it’s incredibly tough to live up to expectations.
She’s set forth goals, part of “the process,” as she calls it, because the best coaches know success isn’t immediate.
“We want them to really embrace the process instead of the outcome,” Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes, you get too caught up with the outcome, and you lose focus and you stop working on what it takes to be better.”
So don’t worry if the Wolverines miss out on the NCAA Tournament or if they don’t win a Big Ten Championship. Look at each player as she progresses in February or March, and then you’ll see Barnes Arico’s success.
2) If you want your players to do something, you must first do it yourself:
On Barnes Arico’s team, players “had better be in shape” if they want to succeed. But no one wants to have to move all the time — even though you have to on this team.
So Barnes Arico encouraged not only all of her players but also her staff to join her in on a plan to work out every day. Now, she has made the effort to run or lift daily, even going so far as to run a marathon last year.
She knows coaches are role models as much as they are experts in the game, and if she wants to win as much as her players, she has to do the work herself. But Barnes Arico won’t get out on the court to run with her own players, though, because she’s “too competitive.”
“I think it’s really important, when you’re the leader of any program, to kind of set an example,” she said. “If I have great expectations of them, and I’m expecting them to do things on a day-to-day basis, I want to try to demand the same of myself.”
Since May 2013, Barnes Arico has worked out at least once every day. That’s 18 months, through recruiting trips, holidays and family gatherings that she has never taken a day off.
3) For the team to play its best, you must make time for the individual:
Before senior forwards Nicole Elmblad and Cyesha Goree began their last seasons, Barnes Arico called each of them into her office individually.
Two of her best players, the duo is no longer unknown to opponents. Now, scouting reports make sure to include them, when two years ago opposing teams might have never even thought about mentioning them. It’s tough to live up to that pressure, so Barnes Arico brought them in and reminded them, no matter how they performed, she “believed in them.”
In Barnes Arico’s program, everyone gets this treatment. They sit down one-on-one with their coach to talk about everything from how they performed in the last game, to the semester’s class schedule or to discuss a relationship in their family or a friend.
“A lot of coaching is about relationships, building relationships and keeping the kids confident,” Barnes Arico said. “If they know that you care about them as people, they will do anything you ask of them.
“I think it’s really about getting to know them as people.”
In college athletics, it’s easy to forget that players are finding out something new every day. They’re working through something off the court as much as they are on.
Sometimes, it’s best to stop moving — but just for a little bit, because this team is always moving — and reflect.
4) No matter how great a tactician or recruiter you are, you must be willing to outwork the opponent:
Barnes Arico is brilliant in her defensive schemes or making the best offense out of players that aren’t necessarily tall enough, like this year’s squad. She has turned Goree from a bench player who had to increase her fitness into an All-Big Ten second-team selection. And Elmblad from the fifth option on the starting offense to a captain for the past two years.
And she’s an excellent recruiter, stealing some of the nation’s best prospects away from other top teams. Just this year, three recruiting publications rated her incoming class in the top 20 of the nation.
But her teams succeed because they work harder than the team across the court.
Take a charge in practice, like sophomore guard Siera Thompson did Wednesday, and everyone will rush to that person to cheer and support her decision. Fail to shut down the shooter in time as Elmblad did Wednesday, and Barnes Arico will make sure everyone knows that won’t be accepted.
“We pride ourselves on being in really good shape, and being hard workers and blue collar,” Barnes Arico said.
Even when they trailed twice in both games this weekend, Michigan stormed back to win because it worked to rebound and worked to get open to shoot. They never stopped moving in the Crisler Center.
And if there’s one thing you can come to expect, it’s that they won’t stop anytime soon. Their coach won’t let them, anyway.
Garno can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @G_Garno.