Fifteen years ago, Kim Barnes Arico accepted the position of head coach at St. John’s in Queens, N.Y., after helming Adelphi’s program for three seasons. She was moving, for the first time, into Division I women’s basketball.
Fast forward 10 years, and Barnes Arico exited that program as the winningest coach in school history with a total of 176 victories. In her final season with the Red Storm, her team went 24-10 and advanced — for the first time — to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
The most exciting game that season, as many remember, was an upset at Connecticut during the regular season that ended the Huskies’ 99-game winning streak.
At the end of the season, though, Barnes Arico left a program that she had built almost from the ground up – before her arrival the team had never won a game in the Big East – to become a Wolverine.
And, for the first time in her five-year tenure as the head coach of the Michigan women’s basketball team, Barnes Arico is set to face her previous school.
“It’s definitely a little emotional for me,” Barnes Arico said. “But, at the end of the day, I bleed blue.
“(I’m going to show) no mercy, for sure,” Barnes Arico said. “St. John’s will always hold this special place in my heart. I was there for 10 years and they gave me an opportunity to work at their university.”
Since Barnes Arico’s departure, Joe Tartamella serves as the head of St. John’s program. Previous to that position, he had been on staff for nine seasons under Barnes Arico and had served four of them as associate head coach. Tartamella is known for his recruitment.
Tartamella isn’t the only familiar face that Barnes Arico will see on the opposing bench Thursday. Assistant coach Da’Shena Stevens played for Barnes Arico, assistant coach Jonath Nicholas also assisted Barnes Arico, and the director of basketball operations, Veronica Mullen, was a player for Barnes Arico at Adelphi.
Predictably, Barnes Arico holds a place for them all.
“My former graduate assistant — who married one of my assistants who had played for me — is the head coach now and they have three little kids,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re going to bring the whole family out and a bunch of my players are on the bench there as well as former players.”
Notably, St. John’s has infiltrated Crisler Center not just through Barnes Arico, but also through Michigan assistant coaches Joy McCorvey and Megan Duffy who played and sidelined, respectively, under Barnes Arico as a Red Storm.
The large, albeit unconventional, community that Ann Arbor and Queens share will be put to the test in the upcoming fourth-round game of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Barnes Arico has been able to dodge the bullet of competing against her former team before, but was unsuccessful this year.
“We have not played (St. John’s since I’ve been here),” Barnes Arico said in an interview with WTKA. “My first season here we went to the NCAA Tournament and they went to the NCAA Tournament and so I thought the NCAA Tournament, they can be cruel, might give us that matchup. But they didn’t, thank goodness.”
While a Wolverine, Barnes Arico has managed to bring Michigan to an NCAA Tournament appearance her first year here in 2012, as well as appear in four WNITs — though the snubs by the NCAA selection committee mar the latter accomplishment.
At the end of the day, Barnes Arico is ready to bring her team past Thursday’s battle. Her players have been reiterating they want to do this to prove a point that they deserved a bid to the NCAA Tournament, they want to do this for their seniors and they want to do this to unfurl a WNIT championship banner for the first time at Crisler.
“I am thrilled this game is going to be at Crisler,” Barnes Arico said. “And in front of our home fans to give our team an opportunity, once again, to play on our home court.”