The Michigan women’s basketball roster features players from nine states — but it hasn’t always been this way.
Just five years ago, six of 13 members of the team hailed from Michigan, while the other half come from surrounding states in the Midwest.
In three years with the program, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has managed to recruit from all over the country, and this year, every region is represented.
Three players — sophomore guards Danielle Williams (Arizona) and Siera Thompson (California) and freshman guard Emoni Jackson (California) — come from out West. Freshman guards Maria Backman (New York), Katelynn Flaherty (New Jersey) and freshman forward Jillian Dunston (Maryland) represent the East Coast.
Senior guard Shannon Smith hails from North Carolina, and sophomore guard Paige Rakers and freshman center Terra Stapleton come out of Illinois and Ohio, respectively, to round out the out-of-state crowd.
In fact, the current class of freshmen and sophomores consist of just out-of-state players, a rarity in the program’s history.
Barnes Arico has used the University’s academics to sell the program to recruits.
“Michigan really sells itself,” said assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Melanie Moore. “We really sell the life after basketball. So yeah, you come here to play basketball for four years, but it’s 40 years after that, what a Michigan degree can get you. And with women and girl players, that goes far.”
Added Thompson: “When I graduate from here, I’ll have connections with the largest alumni group in the country. That stood out to me because no other school could promise me that.”
Another reason players pick Michigan is the athletic tradition that the University has to offer.
“I just think that the University of Michigan brand is universal,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s not only to the state of Michigan, whereas a lot of colleges are to their state. I can go into a house in California, a house in New York and a house in Michigan and they all feel that sense of the block ‘M’ and what being a part of the Michigan culture is.”
The players are also impressed with Barnes Arico and the job that she has done at Michigan.
In just two years, Barnes Arico has transformed a team that had lost almost its entire starting lineup to a team that is currently off to its best start in her tenure history with a 6-1 record.
Not only are players impressed by Barnes Arico’s track record, but also the direction the program is headed.
“I really believed in (Barnes Arico’s) vision,” Williams said. “She wanted me to know that (Michigan) was going to be the hardest-working team in America. We were going to do whatever it takes. All the things she believed in, I believe in as a player.”
The last answer, and maybe the most important one, is the team itself.
While the coaching staff prides itself as being one of the most tight-knit units in the country, it is the sense of family among the players that attracts players to the Wolverines.
“I really clicked with all of the girls really quickly,” Williams said. “I have a different connection with everyone. Everyone was so open and honest to help me in so many different ways.”
And the family-like atmosphere was most evident last week during Thanksgiving, The team traveled to Puerto Rico for the San Juan Shootout, which denied players the chance to spend the holiday with their families.
“We’re home away from home,” said senior forward Cyesha Goree. “Even though we’re not spending time at home with our families, we have a family here.”
And that family feeling appeals to recruits as well. So when Barnes Arico announced her recruiting class for the fall of 2015, it came as no surprise that not only was the five-player class ranked No. 11 by ProspectNations.com, but also that all five players hailed from outside of Michigan.
Highlighting the class is forward Naomi Davenport from Cincinnati. Davenport is known to be aggressive to the rim as well as a good mid-range shooter, much like Smith is.
Also in the class are Nicole Munger and Lauren Brozoski, who are ranked as the No. 76 and No. 89 recruits in the country, respectively, and will both bring more depth to a team that is already stacked at the guard position.
Rounding out the class are post players Sam Trammel and Haley Thome. Thome will be one of the Wolverines’ tallest players next year at 6-foot-4.
And all five players expressed the same reasons for coming to Michigan, and they were in conjunction with some of the same reasons why current Wolverines come to Michigan.
“I know I will be receiving one of the best educations in the world, while also competing at the highest level on the court,” Munger told MGoBlue.com. “From the very first moment, everyone at Michigan made me feel like part of their family, not just another recruit, which was very important to me.”
So the only real challenge Barnes Arico has with recruiting is getting players to come play in the frigid Michigan cold.
But that hasn’t seemed to affect her players.
“When the coaches recruited me, they knew (the weather) would be something that would make me hesitant,” Thompson said. “But I came here to play basketball and get an education, so if there was different weather than what I’m used to, it’s ok.”