Sunday, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico watched her players celebrate a championship win.
But they weren’t wearing maize and blue. And she wasn’t in America.
Instead, she was in Chekhov, Russia, surrounded by the best 19-year-old talent in the world. And her team — donning red, white and blue — stormed the court as confetti rained from the ceiling. And soon, Barnes Arico held a gold medal in front of a wide smile.
In her second straight summer as an assistant coach for USA Basketball, Barnes Arico helped lead the USA team on a 7-0 run in the FIBA U19 World Championship, a campaign that began July 18 and ended Sunday with a 78-70 win over Russia, giving the team its sixth straight gold medal.
Barnes Arico also guided the U18 team to a gold medal last summer, qualifying them for a shot at this year's trophy.
“It was an incredible feeling,” Barnes Arico told USA Basketball. “For the last two years, I feel so honored to have been asked to help coach for USA Basketball. To have the opportunity to be surrounded by greatness, whether it is the players that I have opportunity to coach that are the best in their particular age group, or the coaches and the staff that I get to work with everyday. … It has been a dream come true.”
After going 3-0 in group play to earn Group B’s top seed, the U.S. cruised past Argentina, Canada and Spain to earn a spot in the championship. Against Russia, the U.S. turned an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead by halftime.
U.S. center Chatrice White finished the third quarter off with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to maintain her team’s momentum, and the U.S. ultimately survived, led by forward A’Ja Wilson’s 30 points, a U19 single-game record that made the captain the team's Most Valuable Player.
Wilson, who helped South Carolina to this year’s Final Four, carved her name in the record books as one of the world’s best 19-year-old basketball players, and is the stand-out example of the excellence Barnes Arico has been surrounded by this summer.
“Every game that we’re in, I can pick up something from the other team (and) from our team,” Barnes Arico told MGoBlue.com on July 13. “Maybe a new out-of-bounds play, maybe a new set, or maybe this is how this coach does things. I think it’s always great to learn new things, and to just continue to learn and continue to grow.”
Aside from exposure to the world’s best players, Barnes Arico worked with a coaching staff that boasted a heavy resume.
Assistant coach Jeff Walz, the winningest coach in Louisville women’s basketball history, used to be a regular opponent for Barnes Arico during her time in the Big East. Since 2007, Walz has led Louisville into the national spotlight with five NCAA tournament appearances, including this year’s Sweet 16. Walz’s success mirrors what Barnes Arico hopes to achieve at Michigan.
U.S. head coach Dawn Staley has always caught the admiration of Barnes Arico. The WNBA veteran and three-time Olympic gold medalist led Wilson and the Gamecocks to the this year’s Final Four with a heavy defensive focus, a focus Barnes Arico continues to instill in Michigan.
“For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to work with (Staley) and I have learned so much from her,” Barnes Arico said. “It has been great to be surrounded by her for an extended period of time, to be surrounded by excellence. I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
Barnes Arico nearly had one of her own appear on the international stage. Back in May, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty was invited to compete at the U19 trials in Colorado Springs. But among the 34 attendees, she didn’t make the final 12-member team.
As for Barnes Arico, she moved on to find success at an even higher level.
“This is another opportunity to (learn and grow) at a high level,” Barnes Arico said. “So when I come back to Michigan, if I can tweak a couple things or pick up some things from other coaches and programs that have been champions, that’s only going to help our program be better.”
This season, Barnes Arico nearly became the first coach to hang a banner for the Wolverines this when they reached the WNIT Semifinals. Still, she’s off to the best three-year start for any coach in program history. Her growth hasn’t stopped in the summer, as she was surrounded by the best talent in the country and in the world.
It earned Team USA a gold medal. And it could earn Michigan its first banner.