SOUTH BEND — Since wrapping up the playing portion of her basketball career in 2016 at Notre Dame, Michaela Mabrey has spent one season at Miami of Florida, one season at Miami of Ohio and one season at LSU.
Mabrey guaranteed Monday that her streak of single-season cameos has come to a screeching halt — if the Irish will have her for longer.
“This will definitely be for more than one year,” Mabrey said with a smile. “This is (potentially) a lifetime. When you come here, you rarely see people leave here. It’s that special.”
Mabrey was named an Irish women’s assistant coach Monday, succeeding Niele Ivey on a Muffet McGraw coaching staff that rarely experiences change.
“I cried,” Mabrey confessed of her reaction when McGraw offered the job. “I was just super excited. I didn’t think I would get this opportunity this quickly and this young, so I think it was just a surreal moment for me.”
Mabrey, 25, was a two-year captain, two-year starter at point guard and an elite 3-point shooter at Notre Dame. A member of the program’s all-time winningest class with a 141-8 record, she played in all 116 games over her final three seasons and helped the Irish to the Final Four in each of her first three.
Ivey, also a former ND point guard, resigned three weeks ago to become an assistant coach with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies after 12 seasons as an assistant at her alma mater.
Mabrey called the move by Ivey — whom she described as a mentor and trusted friend — both “wonderful” and “kind of shocking.”
The shock didn’t last long, though.
“I didn’t want to jump the gun, but when I saw it,” Mabrey said of the news about Ivey, “I immediately texted (McGraw) and just said, ‘I really hope that you’ll consider me for this job,’ and she wrote back immediately and just said, ‘You’re on my short list. I’ll be in touch.’”
Mabrey was offered the job on Aug. 16 and had to keep it quiet, but her Twitter account may have provided an ongoing hint anyway. In the nine days from Aug. 17 to Aug. 25, she had retweeted five references to Notre Dame and nothing about LSU.
As part of the Irish coaching staff, Mabrey joins Carol Owens, who’s entering her 20th ND season overall and the 10th of her second tenure, and ex-Notre Dame star Beth Cunningham, who’s in her eighth season back on the heels of nine years as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth.
McGraw, the Naismith Hall of Famer beginning her 33rd season at Notre Dame, laughed Monday when somebody made a reference about adding an assistant from the “modern era.”
“But it is nice to have somebody that recruits can relate to, somebody who they’ve just seen her play,” McGraw said. “They know Marina (Michaela’s sister, who just wrapped up her Irish career and is now with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks), and they know Michaela because of that, and I think she’s got the energy and she’s somebody that has played in this system exactly the way we’re playing now. She’s been to three Final Fours, so she understands the stress. She understands the academic pressure. She can really relate to the players.”
Armed with a degree in film and television, but encouraged by McGraw to pursue a coaching career, Michaela Mabrey landed the role of coordinator of program and player development for one season at Miami of Florida.
That was followed by the 2017-18 season as a bench assistant to fellow ex-Irish player Megan Duffy at Miami of Ohio. They helped lead the RedHawks to the nation’s top turnaround by a first-year coaching staff, going from 11-21 to 21-11. Duffy’s now in her first season as head coach at Marquette.
Mabrey then spent this past season as director of recruiting at LSU.
“So my last three years, I’ve just really touched almost every area,” Mabrey said of the experience she’s gained.
While that experience remains but a blip next to the experiences compiled by the rest of the Notre Dame staff, she’s not being brought aboard to be brought along slowly.
“It shakes things up in a really good way,” McGraw said of her newest assistant. “I think it’s an opportunity for everybody to learn a little more. We’re certainly not coming in telling her this is how we’re doing it and this is exactly how we want it to be run. I want a fresh perspective. I want somebody who can look at things and give us something new. These girls have been doing the same things at practice all the time, so they’ll be excited about some new drills coming in.”
Mabrey’s excited about the idea of a long-term landing spot, not that she’s been bothered by the regular grind of packing and unpacking the last few years, either.
“It really hasn’t been (bad),” Mabrey said, “because I’m young, I’m single, I don’t have kids or anything like that, so it’s kind of been about me. I really don’t have to think for anybody else. It’s just been different places, different parts of the country, and it’s been an unreal experience.”
With Ivey’s departure, the roles within the Irish coaching staff change. Ivey served as recruiting coordinator in addition to being one of three associate head coaches alongside Owens and Cunningham.
Now Cunningham will add coordination of recruiting duties, according to McGraw, “but Michaela will be the one working more with the (recruits).”
Mabrey said recruiting at Notre Dame will continue to be about whether a player is “a fit.”
“You could be the No. 1 player in the country, but you might not fit our offense,” Mabrey said. “So it’s definitely a unique type of kid. Academics definitely play a role in it. We have to have certain GPAs, certain test scores, stuff like that, so we’re not offering everybody. It’s definitely a specific type of kid that we look for in recruiting.”
Michaela’s return means that at least one Mabrey will be part of the Notre Dame program for an eighth consecutive season. Her and Marina’s Irish careers overlapped by one season in 2015-16 before Marina went on to add a national title in 2018 and a national runner-up this past season.
“She’s just so excited,” Michaela said of Marina’s reaction to her big sister’s latest stop. “She has another reason to come back now, because she already misses it. The WNBA and here are two completely different places for numerous reasons, but my family in general loves this place. They were all super excited and can’t wait to visit. (They’re) already planning trips.”
Little sister Dara, a sophomore guard at Virginia Tech, will make one of her own this coming season when the Hokies play at Purcell Pavilion, the date still to be announced.
“Dara’s excited, too,” Michaela said. “She’s having a great career thus far at Tech. I’m super, super proud of her, but she’s a part of this in numerous ways, too. She went to the Final Four last year (as a fan). She’s been a part of it. She’s excited.”
Stretching beyond her own family, Mabrey says that in her role as a coach she wants to treat players like family.
“I feel like it’s really important to make sure you show them you care about them when it’s not just on the court,” Mabrey said. “I had that experience here with our coaching staff, and that’s what I want to bring to them.”
Asked if she considered any men for her latest coaching hire, McGraw indicated that she did.
She also said a declaration to the contrary on the subject that was attributed to her last March was “a little bit out of context.”
“We talked to a few men, did some interviews on the phone, looked at what the resumes were like coming in, and looked around the country without even looking at resumes, just to see who’s out there that really would be good for us,” McGraw said. “It came down to an easy decision because it was Michaela, but we definitely were looking at guys, too.”
McGraw drew mostly wide praise and a social media buzz at the Final Four last April when she weighed in passionately on the discrepancies in male/female employment practices around the nation, both in and out of sports.
A week earlier, though, she also drew some criticism amid the praise when she indicated in a ThinkProgress.org story that she would never hire another man as an assistant coach given hiring habits elsewhere around the country.
“That statement I think came a little bit out of context,” McGraw said Monday. “I was talking about how our female staff was working together and how well we worked together and how much I enjoyed it, and it was sort of an off-hand remark that got taken a little bit too far. I’ve had so many great guys on my staff, and we still have some guys around us in our program, so we were completely open (in who was considered).”
McGraw said Mabrey was among “three or four” Notre Dame alums considered.
She added that ex-Irish stars Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride would be strong coaching candidates once their pro playing days end, but “they’re really into the heart of their careers right now. Both of them hope to make the national team, and then are looking towards the Olympic team.”