By Dylan Butler
The last place Kim Barnes-Arico thought she’d be three weeks ago was at a podium in Alumni Hall. But there she was Tuesday being introduced as the new St. John’s women’s basketball coach.
Fresh off her third and best season at Adelphi, Barnes-Arico just left a second interview for the then-vacant coaching position at Hofstra University believing she was in good position to get the job.
But her hopes were squashed days later when she learned that Michigan State assistant coach Felisha Legette-Jack was named the new Pride coach.
Little did the 31-year-old know that just days later, she would get a call from St. John’s about its vacancy.
“It’s funny the way things work. I guess everything happens for a reason,” said Barnes-Arico, who has a 94-72 record in seven years as a head coach. “I can’t ask for more than to be a part of the St. John’s family and to have an opportunity to coach in the best conference in the country.”
Barnes-Arico, who became the seventh coach in the 28-year history of the women’s basketball program, certainly has her hands full at St. John’s, inheriting a team that went 3-24 last year. Former coach Darcel Estep was fired midway through the year and was replaced by assistant coach Pechone Stepps on an interim basis.
But rebuilding is something Barnes-Arico has done before. After beginning her career at Division III Fairleigh-Dickinson-Madison, she moved to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which was making a transition from Division III to Division II.
After going 5-21 in 1997-98, the Highlanders finished 11-16, good for sixth place in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference. Barnes-Arico was named the New Jersey Collegiate Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
In her first year at Adelphi she tied a program-record for wins, guiding her team to an 18-10 finish and an ECAC tournament berth, earning Barnes-Arico NYCAC Coach of the Year honors.
“One of the most important things to do is to get the players to believe in themselves, their abilities and the coaching staff,” said Barnes-Arico.
After a 19-11 season in 1999-00 and a second straight ECAC tournament berth, Barnes-Arico led Adelphi to the best season in program history last year. The team finished 28-3, winning its first-ever NYCAC conference championship and advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, the program’s first tournament berth since 1987.
Adelphi also enjoyed its first national ranking in school history, finishing No. 12. Barnes-Arico was named NYCAC Coach of the Year for a second time.
“I know what to expect,” Barnes-Arico said. “It will be frustrating because I’ve been successful, but the key is to set little goals and then improve on those goals.”
Another import attribute St. John’s saw in Barnes-Arico was her ability to recruit locally, regionally and nationally, which, in that order, were major requirements set forth by Dave Wegrzyn, Vice President for University Development and Athletics.
“She’s a perfect match for what we need because she has played at Stony Brook and Montclair State and has coached on both sides of the Hudson River,” Wegrzyn said. “We’re very fortunate to have someone who matches those qualifications.”
Her Adelphi roster from this past season had players from powerhouse programs such as Christ the King (Melanie Mangone) and St. John’s Vianney in New Jersey as well as local programs like Francis Lewis (Eliana Armijos) and Holy Trinity, where she scooped up three-time All-Long Island point guard Jesse Dlabola, who was being recruited by several Division I programs.
“Recruiting locally is definitely a priority, but the most important thing for St. John’s is to get the best possible player,” she said. “If its in New York City, then we’re going to do our best to convince them to stay home and go to St. John’s.”
Barnes-Arico, who lives in Teaneck, N.J. with her husband Larry Arico, the head football coach at William Patterson University, said she briefly met with the returning players and described the meeting as positive. According to sources, Barnes-Arico signed a four-year deal. Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Sources say Dianne Nolan, head coach at Fairfield University, and former Christ the King and St. John’s basketball player Margaret McKeon, head coach at Boston University, both took themselves out of contention for the job. Christ the King coach Bob Mackey was also a candidate for the position.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.