Storrs, Conn. — IT WAS 10 minutes to 10 a.m. Friday morning andSt. John’s women’s basketball head coach Kim Barnes Arico had justarrived to Alumni Hall, which she has called home since the summerof 2002.
Sporting a red St. John’s jumpsuit, Barnes Arico’s journey toher office hits a couple of roadblocks. Fighting the blisteringcold and mighty winds are the easy part.
The largest obstacle, ironically, is only a couple dozen incheshigh and just two- years old. His name is Trevor, and prior to theteam’s departure for their Saturday afternoon contest atConnecticut, had the 30 passengers on the bus in a cheerful, upbeatmood.
“Where are we going?” Barnes Arico asked her only child. With alittle help from Mom, who said “U…” he replied “CONN!”
And after she asked him what she was, to which he replied, “Beau… ti … ful,” he tooted his own horn by shouting back, “Hand …some,” when she asked him what he was.
Taking baby steps has become as common to Barnes Arico asrunning daily practices.
After leading Adelphi to a 28-3 overall record in 2001-02 and aSweet 16 appearance in the Divison II NCAA tournament (its firstNCAA Tournament bid since 1987), as well as its first nationalranking in school history, Barnes Arico signed on at St. John’s, astruggling program with a lack of direction.
“I’ve been in that position before where I’ve taken over a teamthat had kind of a similar record,” she said, referring to hertwo-year stint from 1997-99 at the New Jersey Institute ofTechnology. “Having a chance to put St. John’s women’s basketballon the map was really appealing to me.
“I think the most important thing is the attitude and to believethat you can succeed.”
Although the Red Storm lost, 82-49 to the defending nationalchampion Huskies, St. John’s has already matched its overall(eight) and conference (two) win totals from a season ago.
Before her arrival, SJU had little to smile about. In just oneseason, the program made huge progress, finishing 8-19 overall andrecording two conference games (its first Big East victory in 23months) after going 3-24, 0-16 in the Big East a year earlier.
With her roaming the sidelines, SJU has reason to believe. TheRed Storm now play passionate, purposeful basketball, qualitiesthat were non-existent in its games just two years ago.
As her team warmed up at Gampel Pavillion Saturday afternoon, itwas easy to see that the Red Storm possessed a swagger, a word thatwas not even in their vocabulary prior to her arrival.
Although the team lost by 32 points and scored only 14 points inthe final 20 minutes, SJU played an inspired first half ofbasketball, holding a one-point lead with just under six minutesremaining against the No. 4 ranked team in the country. St. John’sscored 35 first half points, seven more than it did in an entiregame two years ago in Storrs, an 88-28 pounding.
The Storm’s aggressive play on both ends of the court had thesellout crowd of 10,167 sitting for most of the first half.
Connecticut may be the jewel of women’s college basketball thesedays, but it too experienced unsuccessful years.
“We have a long way to go to get to the UConns of the world, butwhen Geno [Auriemma] took over the program there they were in asimilar state, so I think it’s going to take time,” said BarnesArico, who said she will be at St. John’s for a “long time.”
The two coaches spoke last season when the Huskies traveled toAlumni Hall in early February.
“He’s been real positive,” she said. “He saw changes in theprogram and said, ‘Keep working at it. I’ve been there.'”
Barnes Arico plans to guide the Red Storm to where Connecticutis now. While a destination of that proportion may seem like anunrealistic place at this present time, will arrive one day.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to play against[Connecticut]. This is the top,” the former standout guard at StonyBrook and Montclair State said. “This is where we want to be someday. We’re going in to play one of the top teams in the country andwe’re not one of the top teams in the country yet.”
This year, she said the team’s goal is to simply qualify for theBig East tournament and once that goal is achieved, maybe SJU canshock somebody and advance farther in the postseason.
Listening while she speaks, the most important thing toacknowledge is the way she speaks about the future, not just today,tomorrow or 10 minutes from now.
“I’m sure we’re going to have higher expectations for next yearthan we did this year,” she said. “When we first got hired, ourstaff sat down and said, ‘Where can the program be in five years?’We want to get to the NCAA tournament.
“We want to get better. We want to bring the program to thehighest level we can bring it.”
That next step will be four days from now when SJU hostsProvidence at Alumni Hall. Three weeks later SJU will make itsfirst ever trip to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 29, welcomingSeton Hall.
The experience will be one the program will cherish for alifetime.
It will be a special day for the St. John’s women’s basketballprogram, but not as important or instrumental than that day twosummers ago when Barnes Arico was announced as the new headcoach.
Joseph Manniello is a junior journalism major, who, along withhis assistant, Joseph Staszewski would like to thank the entire St.John’s women’s basketball program for allowing us to accompany theteam this past weekend at Connecticut. They would also like tothank UConn coach Geno Auriemma for making the press wait over anhour for interviews.
Send all comments and feedback to: [email protected]