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ND Women’s Basketball

Niele Ivey addresses media in first fall presser

| Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Notre Dame media were treated to a new look Monday media session. Immediately following head football coach Brian Kelly’s weekly press conference at noon, women’s basketball head coach Niele Ivey took the Zoom spotlight for her first press conference since being named successor to Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw back in April.

It’s been unique circumstances for a first-year head coach to inherit, but Ivey nevertheless had an almost constant smile on her face and offered profuse gratitude for the position in which she currently finds herself throughout her meeting with the media.

Hannah Huelskamp | The Observer
Irish graduate student guard Destinee Walker drives against a defender during Notre Dame’s 76-53 win over Miami on Jan. 19.

“Super excited to be back here at Notre Dame, my first press conference,” Ivey said. “A lot of smiles because of where I am and what I’m talking about. Notre Dame is a special place for me, and so just every day is a blessing for me. So that’s where all my smiles are coming from.”

Ivey served as the starting point guard on Notre Dame’s first national championship team in 2001 and, after a brief stint in the WNBA, returned to South Bend as an assistant in 2007. She was eventually elevated to recruiting coordinator in 2012, and every one of the program’s nine Final Four occurred during her 17 years as a player and assistant with the Irish.

Last season, Ivey took a break from the collegiate ranks to make a return to the pros, this time as an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA. It was a one-year stint there affording her the chance to work with one of the league’s youngest and most promising teams, including Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, before Ivey supplanted her former coach and boss as just the fourth coach in Irish program history.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time,” she said. “And so stepping on that court, the first day, felt like full circle for me being back here at Notre Dame. But also, you know, just having that dream come true, really.”

Ivey said that despite a shortened offseason, she’s already begun working to implement the program culture she wants.

“I think that was the number one thing coming in, I wanted this team to learn how to compete,” she said. “Coming off of last year, we have a young team. And that was the first thing, that was the main thing I was trying to build coming back, is great habits and culture. And I feel like the identity of this team is that they work really hard. They are very coachable. They come in every day with a hunger. They want to get better. And that’s exactly the culture that I wanted to bring coming back.”

Even so, taking on one’s first head coaching job, and at a program as prestigious as Notre Dame’s no less, comes with its fair share of learning curves. However, Ivey is fortunate to have the aforementioned Hall of Fame coach right down the road from her.

“Coach McGraw, I actually tried to meet with her once every week if I could during quarantine,” Ivey said. “I’m always a person that wants to learn and be a sponge, especially with Coach McGraw … I got her advice over certain things that I’m trying to implement. Some things just culture-wise, leadership-wise, so picking her brain about some things.”

Ivey confessed McGraw is even rubbing off on her in some ways.

“This past weekend, my staff, they said, ‘You even stand like Coach McGraw.’ It was just really funny that they mentioned that,” she said. “I definitely feel that there’s a lot of Coach McGraw that rubs off on the things that I say, and how I coach. I haven’t had a ‘what would Muffet do’ conversation with myself yet, but I’m sure it’s going to come.”

At the same time, the reality is that this is a very different experience than any college coaches or players are accustomed to, and it is taking a toll. Junior forward Danielle Cosgrove announced nearly two weeks ago that she would be taking a leave of absence from the team and University to focus on her mental health.

“Very unfortunate for Danielle not to be with us, taking a leave of absence,” Ivey said. “But we have a great relationship, she has a great relationship with our team. And, as a coach, I just wanted to make sure she had all the resources she needs in order to get better, to get healthy. Mental health is one of the number one problems with college student-athletes right now.”

Ivey said she has dedicated time and resources to helping all of her players cope with the mental burden of being full-time college students and full-time athletes in the midst of a viral pandemic.

“My whole goal, especially coming back, was to make sure that I was helping them in all forms and fashions, not just basketball,” Ivey said. “Sometimes, that could be bringing somebody in to talk to the team. We practice meditation and yoga as a team. Whatever resources that I think will be beneficial for them, I’m going to continue to do that throughout the season.”

Ivey also confirmed that Cosgrove was back in town to visit practice and stay connected with the team.

“Danielle and I have a great relationship,” she said. “She was just back in town this weekend and came to practice. I wanted to make sure that she’s staying engaged with his team, and for her to understand that she’s still part of it.”

Despite the reality of COVID-19 protocols and a changing of the guard at head coach, the press conference still had flashes of normalcy. While she did touch on such topics as figuring out seating capacity during home games and putting the final touches on an abbreviated, four-to-five game non-conference schedule, Ivey discussed such relatively “mundane” topics as what her team will look like with several players returning from injury and a new crop of talented recruits.

“[Senior forward] Mikayla Vaughn, I’ll start with her. She’s coming back from her ACL, doing really well,” Ivey said. “She’s going about 50% capacity right now. She’s seven months post-operation and so we should hopefully have her back in another month and a half … Sam Brunelle is progressing well. Had a little bit of tendinitis last year, had a little bit during the summer and quarantine, and so she’s transitioning back on the court with us. I’m super excited for her.”

Ivey also made note of sophomore guard Anaya Peoples, who is coming back from a shoulder injury last season.

I recruited [Anaya] since she was in sixth grade, seventh grade,” Ivey said. “And this year, having her come back from her shoulder injury, and just seeing her development and her growth, is incredible. She is playing at a very high level. She’s in better shape, she’s worked on her game. Coming back from two knee injuries [myself] here at Notre Dame, I know the feeling of coming back from an injury, how much you grow from sitting out and watching. And I could tell that right away the first workout.”

Finally, Ivey brought up junior transfer guard Dara Mabrey, younger sister to former Irish guards Marina and Michaela, the latter of whom currently serves as an assistant. Ivey said that beyond Dara’s proven three-point shooting ability at Virginia Tech — which lends itself to Ivey’s desire to run an up-and-down style — the youngest Mabrey brings so much more to the team.

“She’s a great leader, she’s very vocal and she understands and knows the value of her voice,” Ivey said of Dara. “She brings the intangibles. She’s tough. She brings the swag. You know, the entire Mabrey family — as you know Marina and Michaela — she definitely brings that energy and confidence, and I think that’s something that is going to be very beneficial for our team.”

It’s fair to say that a chaotic year is in store for all of college basketball. It would be surprising if it didn’t affect a first-year head coach taking over a program that just last season was on track to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over two decades.

Despite the fact that Ivey most certainly realizes that, the permanent upbeat emotion she displayed in her first fall press conference suggests she is undaunted.

“It is a joy to be here and I understand how blessed I am. I hope that it always exudes everywhere, every moment of every day, especially in practice,” she said. “I just love being around the team … they always put a smile on my face. We always start the day with something good and we always end the day with something good. So that’s important to me. These young women mean a lot to me. So it’s easy to have a smile on my face working with them.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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