When the seconds ticked off and the game ended last Thursday for the 190th time in Kim Barnes Arico’s time as head coach of the Michigan women’s basketball team, the first face she saw was a familiar one: Danielle Williams.
Williams has been under Barnes Arico’s tutelage since the 2013-14 season, as both a player and — starting this season — a graduate assistant. Instead of saying a familiar axiom or giving a high-five after the team’s 80-57 dismantling of Wisconsin, Williams offered up a hug. Barnes Arico had won her 124th game, making her the program’s all-time winningest coach. Congratulations were in order.
“She kinda hugged me right away,” Barnes Arico said. “But then my staff, when I turned the corner and most of them — Melanie Moore, Joy McCorvey, Amy Mulligan — have been with me. They started this journey together with me. So it’s as much an honor and a credit to them as it is with me. And then the team, when I went in the locker room, was crazy and it was kind of a celebration. It was an exciting moment, just everybody was excited.”
The team gifted Barnes Arico a jersey, numbered ‘124,’ with her name on the back of it — an idea birthed by Mulligan and Sarah VanMetre, the team’s communications director. Prior to Michigan's game against Ohio State on Saturday, the jersey was presented to her at midcourt.
“I’m always jealous of the kids getting gear,” Barnes Arico joked. “So it’ll be nice for me to have a jersey.”
From there, the congratulatory messages poured in. Nearly 18 hours after the game ended, she had yet to sift through her text messages because there were too many.
When Barnes Arico took over at Michigan in 2012, the Wolverines were a veteran program, led by then-seniors Jenny Ryan and Kate Thompson. After they left, however, it was Barnes Arico’s job to facilitate a rebuild while keeping Michigan in the postseason — something that hadn’t been done successfully in the program’s recent history.
She did it. For four straight seasons, she kept the Wolverines above .500 and got to the Women's National Invitational Tournament, winning it in 2017 and raising the team's first ever banner.
“I was fortunate to inherit a group of seniors that was experienced and was a tremendous group,” Barnes Arico said. “But after that, and they graduated, we had a lot of young, inexperienced kids. So we figured, we were gonna work harder than everybody else. And we might not have the talent of other teams, but we were gonna be the hardest workers and that would prove to be successful.”
That ultimately became her theme, taken into every practice and every game. At the end of the intro video the team plays at the start of every contest, senior guard Katelynn Flaherty stares into the camera and says, “We are the hardest working team in America.”
“I just think sometimes, especially when you're starting as an underdog and maybe your tradition has not been established already, to control the things that you can control, and one is your work ethic,” Barnes Arico said. “And the intensity and passion that you bring to your profession every day, whether that’s a player on the court or a coach on our staff.
“So, that’s just the expectations and I feel like if you do that and you come to work and you work harder than everybody else, you will reap the benefits even sometimes when you’re not the most talented team.”
Now — in Barnes Arico’s fifth year in Ann Arbor — she’s no longer coaching a band of underdogs. The Wolverines have been nationally ranked since the season began and look poised to make a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Barnes Arico’s inaugural season.
When asked if she thinks this is the best team she’s had at Michigan, Barnes Arico replied: “I guess the rest of the world does.”
As for herself, well, she didn’t give a concrete answer. Better to keep working than start wondering.