In the world of sports, one of the hardest things to do is to rebuild and turn around a losing team. Just ask the executives of the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Lions or New York Knicks. Perhaps the owners of those three teams should head over to Queens and ask Kim Barnes Arico for a little advice.
Since she began her tenure as head coach of the women’s basketball team in 2002, Barnes Arico has taken a program that was at the bottom of the Big East barrel and brought it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament just four years later.
But despite her accomplishments, Barnes Arico is quick to credit those around her as the reasons for the turn-around.
“I always say I couldn’t have done any of this without two different groups of people; my staff, they work so hard, they’re unbelievable and of course, the players,” Barnes Arico said. “Without those kids the program isn’t what it is. I get a lot of credit but I think a lot of the credit should go to the kids who gave this program a chance,” she added.
In the season prior to her arrival, the Red Storm finished 3-24 with no victories in the Big East. Since then, the women’s basketball team has enjoyed back-to-back 20-win campaigns, a second round NCAA Tournament appearance and three appearances in the Big East Tournament.
“I think I’ve been fortunate to be at a good university with great support,” Barnes Arico said.
“And [to] have players that have come into the program that really want to make a difference, and put the University on the map.”
Turn-arounds are nothing new for Barnes Arico. As head coach of the women’s basketball team at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, she took a team that won five games in her first season as coach to win 11 in her second season.
In her first season at Adelphi, she immediately tied the school’s record for wins at 18.
During her third and final season there her team won 28 games, won its first New York Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship and advanced to the Division II Sweet Sixteen.
“I think you need patience to turn around a program,” Barnes Arico said. “I also think that you need to find players that believe in your vision and want the same thing you want. Like now, a lot of kids want to go to UConn, it’s already established.
“I want a kid who wants to take a chance and says, ‘I want to win a title at St. John’s. I want to be a pioneer. I want to be the one that makes a difference here.'”
As with any struggling team, getting players to come to the program can always be a battle.
“In the beginning the selling point was, ‘you’re going to come here and have an opportunity,'” Barnes Arico said. “Like with Angela, we told her, ‘you’re going to step here on the court as a freshman, you could set every record here in school history, you could put the program on the map,’ and she did that.”
And of course, having a successful team will make getting players to come to St. John’s that much easier.
“It gets better when you’re ranked in the country, and when you’re coming off an NCAA appearance,” Barnes Arico said. “People have seen us all over the country so it’s a little bit easier and we can sell that.”
Barnes Arico is also quick to credit the campus and students of St. John’s for the team’s rise in the BIG EAST and NCAA. “Once we get recruits up to campus they’re really surprised,”
Barnes Arico said. “They usually think at first that the school is in a bad neighborhood, it must be a dump. We get the kids up here and they like it. It’s a quiet community and you’re also just a bus ride away from the best city in the world.”
Despite controversies involving the lack of school spirit on campus, Barnes Arico said she can offer no complaints in regard to support for her team.
“When we made it to the NCAA tournament there were busloads of students that came. They painted their faces, they brought signs,” Barnes Arico said. “Our kids were so excited to have their peers cheering for them. They were just great. They made a difference, so I can’t knock it. They have supported us.”
Now as she enters her fifth season as head coach, what does Barnes Arico have to say about her first four seasons?
“I think I’ve grown a ton, playing in this league with the best coaches in the country, beating Notre Dame last year, just all those things and from taking the program from where it was to where we were last year has helped me grow,” Barnes Arico said.
However, do not expect the coach to rest on her laurels this season.
“Like I tell the players all the time, you never get too old to learn, so I think there’s so much more for me to learn,” Barnes Arico said. “The minute you stop growing is the minute you stop getting better, so I think I still have got get better and I hope we can get better as a program too.”