ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh did not solicit advice from Kim Barnes Arico before the Michigan football team took off for its trip to Rome in April. As well planned as the trip was, he missed a golden opportunity. The Wolverines women’s basketball coach has been there and done that.
She’s about to lead her team overseas again.
Barnes Arico and her team leave Monday for an 11-day trip to Italy and Greece that will serve as a mix of basketball, education and culture.
“I’ve heard that air smells different, or that when you get there you know it’s not the U.S. I’m excited to experience that for myself,” senior forward Jillian Dunston said. She came to Ann Arbor as a freshman one year after the team’s last European trip. “They said they had a great time. They said the practices were a little tough, a little eye-opening but our experience is a little different because we’re a little short on numbers at the moment, but they just said it was life-changing.”
Michigan won a program-record 28 games last season, including capturing its first postseason tournament championship of any kind when it beat Georgia Tech, 89-79, in triple overtime to win the WNIT. The Wolverines finished third in the Big Ten regular season but lost their only game of the conference tournament to Michigan State and then were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee.
Senior guard Katelynn Flaherty won’t be making the trip because of injury, and Michigan will be trying to acclimate three freshmen to its culture. The Wolverines will play three exhibition games against club teams as well as put on a clinic for children. There also will be sightseeing and team-bonding activities throughout the trip.
“I thought it was an unbelievable experience to see our student-athletes and the excitement that they had, the smiles they had on their faces because most of them had never been out of the country and may never have an opportunity to do that again,” Barnes Arico said of the 2013 trip. “They really embraced it and enjoyed every moment of it.”
So, this time around?
“A lot of times during the course of the season you only get to know your team as basketball players. This is really an opportunity to get to know them as people,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s a chance for me to get to know them outside of basketball, and for them to get to know me outside of basketball. I think that speaks volumes, especially on the women’s side of things.
“If your players know that you really, truly care about them and are really invested in them, they will run through a wall for you. I think it’s a chance for us to get to know each other outside of just playing the game of basketball.”
Nicole Munger scored 12 points, including making a pair of 3-pointers, in the victory against Georgia Tech. The junior guard said she’s looking forward to her first trip overseas.
“I’m excited for the food and to experience a different culture. I’ve heard the food is really, really good,” Munger said. “This will let the freshmen get their feet wet, and this is a bonding experience as a team and with our coaches. Everyone. It should be really great just to hang out.”
Barnes Arico said last season was special because of the way the players handled the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament. She believes this trip can be the start of another special season.
“I think they’re hungry. That championship was one of the highlights of my long career but I’m sure it’s been one of the highlights of our players’ careers as well because they really had to overcome some adversity,” Barnes Arico said. “They had to stick together, and to end in dramatic fashion like we did in the triple overtime was incredible. I think our senior group and the freshmen that are coming in, they all want to take the next step. Our program has definitely moved forward, and that’s something to build off of. I think we felt snubbed from the NCAA Tournament with our third-place finish in the Big Ten, so I think we’re hungry and I think we have a lot of young faces that want to have an opportunity to play at the highest level.
“That’s now what Michigan women’s basketball is all about.”