Michigan’s Amy Dilk talks about possibly starting as a freshman and why she decided to play for the Wolverines. Geoff Robinson, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The vibe is changing around Michigan’s women’s basketball team, and after meeting with the media ahead of the season Wednesday in Ann Arbor, it’s obvious that coach Kim Barnes Arico and her players are ready to embrace new expectations.
It won’t be easy. Barnes Arico is charged with replacing Katelynn Flaherty, the program’s all-time leading scorer. But with that challenge comes an exciting unknown.
Barnes Arico has brought in the highest-ranked recruiting class in the history of the program (ranked 12th by ESPN). She also returns a pair of sophomores who look primed to take off, as well as a senior, next-level prospect.
With all those weapons at her disposal, Barnes Arico knows that Michigan’s time is now.
“There definitely is a buzz around (our team),” Barnes Arico said. “The draw of the University of Michigan is incredible. But from a women’s basketball standpoint, it has definitely (changed). That’s why we had the class we had last year. We are getting those kids over great programs.”
Headlining this year’s freshmen class is 6-foot Amy Dilk, last year’s Miss Basketball in Indiana and the Wolverines' starting point guard. According to Barnes Arico, Dilk has the offensive game and the intangibles to be a leader from day one. Barnes Arico believes Dilk’s length is also going to make her a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end.
“(Dilk) is going to be our starting point guard,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s a freshmen, and that’s a big role for a freshman. But I think she is capable of handling that. She’s a great athlete. She’s a shot-blocker, and she has the ability to effect the game on the offensive and defensive end.”
Said Dilk: “My job as point guard is to make everyone better and lead the team, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. Every day I’m getting more comfortable.”
Michigan finished 23-10 last season (10-6 Big Ten). In the NCAA Tournament the Wolverines beat Northern Colorado before losing to Baylor.
Naz Hillmon is another star freshman who figures to see the floor for Barnes Arico this season. Hillmon was recruited by Louisville and Ohio State, both traditional powerhouses in women’s basketball. But she chose Michigan, something Barnes points to as a change in the culture around the program.
"It’s changing, and it’s great for us because we are in the conversation with the recruits we weren’t in the past,” Barnes Arico said.
With Dilk taking over at point guard, former Southfield A&T star Deja Church moves to the shooting guard spot, something Barnes Arico says is her most natural spot on the floor.
As a freshman, Church averaged seven points per game, but now she says she’s primed to take off and become a focal point of the offense as a sophomore.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Church said. “During high school I played on the wing, and then my freshman year here I had to play the point guard, which was new to me. I can go back to my natural position now, so I’m all for it.”
Church is also excited to get back on the court with fellow sophomore Hailey Brown, a forward who averaged nine points per game last season before her season was cut short due to a lower leg injury in a February game with MSU.
“We missed her, but she’s back better than ever,” Church said. “Our expectations are very high. It’s very exciting.”
Hallie Thome talks about how the depth of the Michigan women’s basketball team is improved over last season. Geoff Robinson, The Detroit News
It’s all about depth
The first question on everyone’s mind Wednesday was how Michigan would replace Flaherty, and there's no easy answer.
“Flaherty is a once in a lifetime player,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s irreplaceable. (But) the thing we have that we haven’t had since I’ve been here is a tremendous amount of depth. The competition each and every day of practice; sometimes our second team beats our first team.”
Hallie Thome averaged 17.4 points per game for the Wolverines last season, and with the talk of being taken in next spring’s WNBA Draft swirling around the Crisler Center, one could forgive Thome for focusing on improving her numbers and draft stock. But the senior is all about the team, and the thing that excites her more than anything is the depth the Wolverines have entering the season.
“I think a lot of people have stepped up,” Thome said. “The freshmen are holding us all to a standard. It’s more competitive than it’s been in the past. Depth is something we haven’t really had experience with, but I think it’s going to be the best thing we’ve ever had. The puzzle is finally put together.”