In this week’s edition of the “Defend the Block” podcast, Michigan women’s basketball head coach Kim Barnes Arico chats about each of her three new assistants, what she and the players are up to at this stage of the offseason, and Naz Hillmon’s opportunity to represent Team USA in next week’s AmeriCup. Also, one of those assistants, Harry Rafferty, stops by to discuss his increased responsibilities, the acclimation process for the new-look staff, and his close relationship with former Wolverine Duncan Robinson.
By Brian Boesch / U-M
Michigan women’s basketball experienced its greatest season in 2020-21, reaching the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time in program history and taking national power Baylor to overtime in the regional semifinal. The memories from that run will live on forever, but head coach Kim Barnes Arico has her sights set on the upcoming 2021-22 season.
Rising programs like Michigan must balance the uncharted successes of the past with the untapped potential of the future, which is why Arico — and the program as a whole — has been focusing on a word that captures that unique position.
“We’ve been using the word ‘momentum’ a lot,” Arico said on this week’s edition of the “Defend the Block” podcast. “The momentum coming off such an incredible season has been really special when talking to recruits and having recruits on campus and really bringing in this new staff.”
Momentum can be fleeting, but if a program handles things the right way, it can be maintained, even if some shuffling takes place. The Wolverines will return many key players from last year’s magical run, including star senior Naz Hillmon, but Arico’s assistant coaching trio will be completely different. Arico is confident that new assistants Carrie Moore, Val Nainima and Harry Rafferty can maintain, and even intensify, that momentum.
Moore may be a prime example of the new stature that Michigan women’s basketball boasts nationally. Arico had attempted to woo Moore into returning to her home state several times before, and this time it worked. The results have been outstanding so far, according to Arico.
“I’ve been really, really impressed with the way that she goes about everything,” she said. “Coaches just really love her passion and enthusiasm for every part of the game, whether that’s player development, whether that’s coaching from the sideline, or whether that’s recruiting. She’s one of the best in the business.”
Arico has similar expectations for Nainima, who may not have the experience that Moore possesses, but she has similar potential.
“She’s definitely a rising star in the business,” Arico said. “She was a little bit under the radar, but when I did my research and when I did my homework on her, I thought she would just be fabulous for our program.”
The most recent hire was a familiar one to those on the team. Former graduate manager Rafferty was elevated to an assistant coach thanks to his unselfish approach and his attention to detail since arriving in Ann Arbor.
“I know something special when I see it, and I have witnessed that in the last couple years in Harry Rafferty,” Arico said. “Obviously, it starts with his work ethic and his passion to be great and to learn. He’s just wanted to be a sponge the last couple of years.”
The momentum of the program always starts with the head coach, and Arico has set the tone for a productive offseason after the most productive season Michigan women’s basketball had ever experienced. Everyone else, both the newcomers and the returners, have followed suit.
“We’re coming off the best season in program history, with a great group returning and three tremendous assistants coming on board,” Arico said. “The energy, the enthusiasm, the work ethic, the fire is just there. It has been just an incredible atmosphere.”
“We’re fired up to make a plan for Michigan and for this season, and for recruiting — everything that goes with developing a championship program.”
Main photo: From left: Val Nainima, Harry Rafferty, Kim Barnes Arico, Carrie Moore (Michigan Photography)