Women’s collegiate basketball has seen major changes over the past five to ten years. Between increases in the number of Division I programs, an influx of money and more media coverage, there’s a reason why recruiting has changed so much as well.
“I think there’s more parity in women’s basketball than ever before,” said recruiting analyst Dan Olson from girlsbasketballreport.com. “Connecticut winning four or five national championships in a row, I don’t see that happening anymore. I don’t see that happening with anybody anymore.”
With the No. 12 recruiting class in the country this year, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico must be doing something right. While it’s already the third time the Wolverines have a class ranked in the top 20 since the hiring of Barnes Arico in 2012, how Michigan’s staff has managed to recruit such coveted players this season is attributed to a multitude of factors.
Firstly, Barnes Arico has a large range in her recruiting network. Originally from New York, she still has East Coast ties. Her first head coaching job was at Fairleigh Dickinson-Madison, a Division III university in New Jersey. She stayed close to home for multiple years after that, coaching at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and St. John’s University in New York. Barnes Arico’s best recruit ever, Katelynn Flaherty, was from New Jersey.
“She’s got roots in the Northeast,” Olson said. “She’s made it work for that area.”
Since 2014, when the Wolverines’ recruiting started to take off, each team Barnes Arico has coached has had two or more players from the East Coast. This year, Michigan has junior Danielle Rauch and sophomore Michelle Sidor, two necessary playmakers.
Geographically, Michigan is located in a hot spot for college basketball recruits. So, with a highly competitive in-state rival in Michigan State and multiple teams throughout the Big Ten in neighboring states investing heavily in their women’s basketball programs, the battle competition for recruiting the same athletes is at an all-time high.
Yet Michigan has also been able to recruit players from the Midwest consistently. While each team contains a few players from other parts of the country, the heart of each Wolverine roster is Midwestern players.
“I think that there’s a lot of value in saying that, if you’re Michigan, you should be getting the best player in the state,” Olson said. “I know they’re always battling the same kids, and I know everyone in the Big Ten always seems to be battling for a lot of the same kids. But you should be getting the better players in the state.”
Historically, Michigan hasn’t always gotten those players. Last year there wasn’t a single player on the roster from the state of Michigan. The program has lost a lot of those five-star recruits to Michigan State, and other programs in Michigan. However, the tides seem to be changing for the Wolverines.
Freshman Whitney Sollom was one of three finalists for Michigan’s Ms. Basketball last year, and now she’s attending Michigan. While only two players on the Wolverines’ 2020-21 roster are from Michigan, they represent the best of the best from the state.
From the remaining roster, all but three players hail from the Midwest — the three being two international students and freshman Meghan Fiso from Washington.
Barnes Arico’s ability to retain top tier players from neighboring states gives Michigan a leg up on all Big Ten opponents. Taking the best players away from other state schools forces neighboring teams to look elsewhere to players, typically internationally. Or they’re forced to recruit lower star players from their own states.
Another important factor in Michigan’s recruiting is that Barnes Arico has an impressive, consistent staff.
Assistant coach Wesley Brooks is entering his fourth season on staff for the Wolverines. Before he joined the Michigan staff he worked in multiple assistant coach positions, with a focus on recruiting.
“Wesley Brooks, he’s a survivor man,” said Olson. “He’s been all over the place, but he’s been one of these guys that’s worked his way up to where he is today because he’s worked hard at it.”
Yvonne Sanchez, another assistant coach, also has tons of experience in recruiting and is entering her third season with the Wolverines. She was previously the head coach at New Mexico for four yeas, and was later an assistant coach.
“It’s nice to have somebody that you can bang ideas off of and get another look at it versus hearing yourself talk all the time,” Olson said. “(Barnes Arico’s) got a good staff. Yvonne’s never been one to not work hard, she’s always been a hard-working woman.”
The team’s most recent hire is recruiting coordinator and assistant coach Toyelle Wilson. Prior to coming to Michigan, Wilson was an assistant at Baylor for six seasons and helped recruit top-10 recruiting classes every season for the Bears, including last year’s No. 1 overall class.
“Toyelle gives them a little bit of a fresh start,” Olson said. “But doesn’t give them so much of a fresh start that they’ve gotta start back from ground zero.”
In every aspect of the recruiting process, Michigan excels, but its specialty lies in Barnes Arico’s East Coast roots, ability to win Midwest recruits over regional competitors and excellent coaching staff.
Recruiting is an art, not a science. It’s a multitude of things that draw a player to a school. Whether it’s the excellent coaching staff, or cross-country ties, Michigan has somehow gotten good at it. But ultimately it comes back down to the hard work that Barnes Arico and her staff put into maintaining their recruiting status.
“She’s a hustler,” Olson said. “She works at it. She’s a grinder in my opinion.”