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ND Women’s Basketball

Waking the Echoes: Ivey ‘blessed’ to mentor new guards

| Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ask Niele Ivey about anything — her time as point guard under Irish coach Muffet McGraw, her current role as Irish women’s basketball recruiting coordinator and assistant coach or her 12-year-old son, Jaden — and one word will keep coming up.

Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, center, sits courtside during Notre Dame's 89-76 win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 22 at Purcell Pavilion.Amy Ackermann | The Observer

Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, center, sits courtside during Notre Dame’s 89-76 win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 22 at Purcell Pavilion.

“Blessed.”

It’s difficult to become an All-American and groom players like former Irish guard and current WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins without talent, hard work and a keen understanding of the game.

“She was always one of the hardest workers in the gym,” McGraw said of Ivey’s career with the Irish. “She was always the person that could be completely intense on the court, and the minute she stepped in the locker room, be kind of the life of the party and the one that made everyone laugh and kept everybody loose.”

However, Ivey dishes out credit for her success just like she used to dish out assists for Notre Dame.

In her eight-year run as an assistant coach, Ivey has worked specifically with the point guards, overseeing the development of players such as Diggins and current sophomore Lindsay Allen, a freshman All-American last season.

“For me, I’m kind of a proud mom, sitting back, seeing the success, seeing the work ethic, seeing what Skylar’s done after she’s graduated, what [former Irish guards Melissa] Lechlitner and Tulyah [Gaines] did,” Ivey said. “So many points guards have gone through this program, so it’s a blessing to be in this role.”

Before she was in that role, Ivey was a freshman guard, sitting on the bench and redshirting her first season after suffering a tear in her knee.

But she calls even that injury a “blessing in disguise” because it allowed her to come back for a fifth season with the Irish in 2000-2001. By that time, she had grown into a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the country’s top point guard and helped the team to a national championship in her hometown of St. Louis.

“That was hard for me because that was my first injury, so for my first injury to cause me to be sidelined, that was really something that I had never experienced,” she said. “But in hindsight, my senior year, I found out [the Final Four] was in St. Louis, so that was a goal of mine. It was kind of motivation for me to get back home my senior year, so it definitely was a huge blessing in disguise.”

Former Irish guard Niele Ivey celebrates after Notre Dame’s 68-66 win over Purdue in the NCAA championship on April 2, 2001.Observer File Photo

Former Irish guard Niele Ivey celebrates after Notre Dame’s 68-66 win over Purdue in the NCAA championship on April 2, 2001.

After that, Ivey played for five seasons in the WNBA before interning under current Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff, then at Xavier.

Two years later, she received a call from McGraw that had her packing her bags and heading back to South Bend.

“It’s been amazing, as a player, being able to help build the program as a point guard, win the national championship and then come back,” Ivey said. “For me, it’s what I love. It’s my passion, Notre Dame, and to be able to have my first job to be back here under Coach McGraw, a Hall of Fame coach, to me has been a dream come true.”

Coming from a family that enforced the value of education, Ivey said her decision to come to Notre Dame as a player was a no-brainer. Now, almost 15 years after Ivey’s graduation from the University, McGraw said the choice to bring her back as a coach was just as simple.

“It was the best and easiest decision I’ve ever made,” McGraw said. “I think that she was exactly what I wanted and needed because she had such great experience as a player, played at the highest level.

“… She just has the kind of personality that is charismatic and really attracts people to her, so I thought that she’d be tremendous.”

Ivey said taking the job at Notre Dame was the best move not only for herself, but also for Jaden, who has grown up with the program and regularly travels with her.

“He’s a gym rat, so my job is something that he loves to do, so I’ve been blessed to have such an amazing son who can handle the role that I play as a coach, having to do so many things,” she said.

Although her job description entails trying to convince some of the country’s best prospects to play for the Irish, she said she isn’t focused on recruiting another Ivey to Notre Dame — at least not yet.

“He’ll be 13 in a month, so I’m still looking at high schools,” Ivey said with a laugh.

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