Let’s take a step back from men’s basketball here for a second.
Let’s take a look at the often-overlooked female side of the sport, and let’s take a look at an even more overlooked coach: Kim Barnes-Arico.
After graduating from Montclair in 1993, Barnes-Arico taught phys-ed before short-lived tenures as head coach at NJIT and Fairleigh Dickinson. She then went on to Adelphi for three seasons before getting the head coaching job at St. John’sWhile the women’s basketball team was a powerhouse in the early 1980’s under head coach Don Perrelli, particularly in 1982-83 while winning a program record 23 games, St. John’s was mediocre throughout the 1990’s.
But Barnes-Arico hardly arrived to an ideal situation.
The program was a train wreck, posting a 3-24 record overall and zero Big East wins the season before her arrival in 2002. In fact, St. John’s was on a 23-game conference losing streak before Barnes-Arico snapped the slide in her first season.
Barnes-Arico immediately shot a little life into the program, and in the third season after her arrival St. John’s had a 20 win season. St. John’s didn’t make the NCAA Tournament for 18 seasons, spanning from the 1987-88 season until Barnes-Arico led the Johnnies on a surprising run to the Big Dance in 2005-06, making it to the second round before an 87-74 loss to Maryland.
The accolades came pouring in. She was awarded Big East Coach of the Year and Metropolitan Basketball Writer’s Association Coach of the Year for her teams efforts in 2005-06.
But one year after its thrilling run to the NCAA Tournament in 2006, St. John’s was hampered by injuries and youth and was only able to manage eight victories for the season.
And that brings us to this year. I’m not sure that anyone really knew what to expect this season. While there were eight letter winners and five starters returning, it was still an unproven squad.
St. John’s has been solid, though. The Red Storm finished the regular season with a 16-13 record, good for tenth in the conference as it goes into the Big East Tournament this Saturday against Pittsburgh. Most importantly, however, is that with a win over Pittsburgh, or perhaps even without one, St. John’s is in position as a bubble team for the NIT Tournament. That’s saying a lot about a program that had just three wins six years ago. Where St. John’s will go from here still remains to be seen. A 10-point victory over No. 9 Notre Dame on Monday is encouraging as the team is heading into the postseason, but with Kia Wright graduating at the conclusion of the season the program needs a leader.
Along with Wright, Tiina Sten is in her last season at St. John’s. Wright, the playmaker, and Sten, the inside presence, are not only the battery of the team, but the two players who provide Big East experience.
Perhaps freshman Sky Lindsay, who has posted impressive numbers and gets starting minutes in her first season, or Monique McLean, who recently eclipsed the 1,000 point mark fro her career, will be able to lead the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament.
One thing is for certain. Barnes-Arico knows how to coach a squad to victory, and she knows what it takes to be a winner. As she’s shown in the past, even with limited talent she can take her teams places.
Regardless of the outcome this season, Barnes-Arico is a success story.