Pardon Kim Barnes Arico if she’s modest. It isn’t like anything has been handed to her.
Last season, even after her team’s win total of 20 was 10 more than the previous year’s total, Barnes Arico was not chosen as Big East coach of the year.
So, as she was sitting at this year’s award ceremony on March 3, at the Hilton across the street from the Hartford Civic Center, it’s not surprising that she didn’t think she would win it this year. Despite a 21-7 record and two straight weeks in the top-25 poll this year.
But win she did.
“I didn’t think that I was going to get it,” Barnes Arico said, “and once they started talking about, ‘in her fourth year,’ I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ Then my stomach started to get butterflies, but I didn’t have anything prepared. So in my mind I started to [think], what they heck am I going to say?”
The truth is, she didn’t have to say a thing. Her resume speaks for itself.
It’s been written on the pages of this newspaper countless times in the past two years, but Barnes Arico’s job as the women’s basketball coach here has been nothing short of miraculous.
The team’s appearance in the Associated Press rankings was its first in 20 years. In her first year, 2002-03, she turned a 3-24 team – and one of the worst in the country in 2001-02 – into a respectable 8-19.
Then she brought in forward Angela Clark and St. John’s went 10-18 in 2003-04. Last year, Kia Wright, Clark’s high school teammate at Copiague (Long Island) transferred here before ever playing a single game at perennial power UConn.
Wright had many reasons for coming to St. John’s: proximity to home, the presence of Clark and not fitting into the world of Storrs.
But one would be foolish to think Barnes Arico didn’t play a huge part.
“It says a lot about the players in our program more than about me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to go it without the staff and the support that we have and the players in the program who took a chance on St. John’s and really believed that it could be done.”
They weren’t taking a chance on the program, on New York City, on Queens, on the corner of Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike.
They were taking a chance on Kim Barnes Arico.
“I just can’t explain her energy,” Wright said. “Sometimes she has more energy than us at practice. I respect her so much. She screams. She yells. She’s into it.
“There was this one practice, I was watching her and she’s sitting on the floor and something happened and she just gets so hopped us. I wish that we all could have that energy. She’s amazing.”
In college, a coach makes a team. There’s no general manager making trades and signing free agents. There are no drafts where the worst team in the league gets the highest choice. There’s just the head coach and his or her staff.
Barnes Arico has built this program up from its worst season, and now, after three years, the St. John’s women’s basketball team will be in the NCAA Tournament, a goal that looked so unattainable when I was a freshman in 2003.
The team will be headed to Penn State on Sunday to play California. But Barnes Arico will make a stop in downtown Manhattan first. Wall Street to be exact. The 35-year-old coach is scheduled to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday morning.
A very cool thing, sure. But she’s certainly made a lot of noise around here already.
“I definitely think [the coach of the year award] was long overdue,” guard Tara Walker said. “Her coming into this program, being one of the worst programs, and now to where we are today – making the NCAA tournament. I definitely think she deserves everything that she’s gotten.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.