Senior forward Hailey Brown embraced coach Kim Barnes Arico, smiling.
With 17.7 seconds left on the clock, she checked into the game knowing she and her teammates had just entered uncharted territory. For the first time in its history, the Michigan women’s basketball team would be moving on to the Sweet Sixteen.
Going into the Round of 32 game against Tennessee, Brown knew that the finality of her career in a Wolverine uniform was as real as it had ever been. Brown was determined to make sure she and her teammates lived to play another day.
Known as a deadly shooter, Brown scored a season-high four 3-pointers against the Lady Vols in a 90-75 win. Finishing the game with 14 points, her shooting form returned at the perfect time.
Brown has been a part of two other NCAA Tournament teams, but both fell just short of the Sweet Sixteen with losses in the second round. At last, in her final season, Brown has reached what was once seen by many outside the program as a pipe dream. When Brown hugged Barnes Arico, all the emotions came pouring out.
“It’s something that I’ll remember forever,” Brown said. “I came to Michigan to do these moments and from the very first time I stepped on the campus, I had the early conversations with coach. This has just always been one of our goals.”
Brown nearly didn’t take the court for Michigan at all this season. Brown’s family lives in Canada and travel bans would prevent her from seeing them if she returned to campus. With the NCAA allowing collegiate athletes to compete this season without it counting towards their eligibility, Brown had a decision to make.
Looking for guidance, Brown turned to Barnes Arico.
“I was going to support her whatever decision she made,” Barnes Arico said. “We continued those conversations and she decided.”
Brown told her that something kept calling her back. She was committed to the possibility of doing something special on the court this year.
For the first time in Barnes Arico’s coaching career, three of her players decided to live by themselves — Brown being one of them. In an effort to remain healthy and avoid contracting COVID-19, Brown was willing to do whatever it took, including living alone.
Brown’s performance against Tennessee comes almost two weeks after going 1-for-3 from the 3-point line against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. Yet, Barnes Arico knew that in order for the team to be successful in the NCAA Tournament, Brown had to be more involved.
“Obviously it’s because she scores the basketball so well,” Barnes Arico said. “But also because she’s so experienced. She has a tremendous IQ. She understands the game so well … she’s helped us be successful and take this program in this direction.”
The hug with Barnes Arico represented so much more. It encapsulated the 400 plus practices, summer workouts during a pandemic and most importantly, separating from her family in Canada. All the sacrifices had paid off.
From the initial conversation when she first stepped on campus, to seeing her teammates huddling around each other as the whistle blew against Tennessee, Brown’s taken advantage of every opportunity to write history.
And she still has time to make more.