SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame has four women’s basketball freshmen already drawing rave reviews, and five stars who apparently won’t be unseated as starters.
That’s true even at point guard, where last season the role was an entirely new one to Marina Mabrey, that job thrust upon her by in-season injuries to others.
It’s going to stay true, despite the fact that the Irish now have an addition in Jordan Nixon whom coach Muffet McGraw immediately and unflinchingly projected as her 2018-19 starting point guard upon signing Nixon last November.
“Marina will continue to start at the point,” McGraw said Wednesday while discussing a variety of Notre Dame offseason topics.
Mabrey’s standing is not necessarily due to any failing on Nixon’s part.
Rather, it’s kind of hard to remove somebody who merely helped the team to a national title from that particular spot, somebody who steadily grew at the spot as she gained experience, somebody who’s got Mabrey’s assassin disposition, and somebody who’s heading into her senior season with a truckload of other proven attributes.
In the no-surprises category, Mabrey will be joined, according to McGraw, by Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Jackie Young and Brianna Turner as ND starters going into preseason practices, tentatively slated to start Oct. 4.
Nonetheless, how about those freshmen — the 5-foot-8 Nixon, 5-10 combo guard Katlyn Gilbert, 5-10 lefty guard Abby Prohaska and 6-4 forward Danielle Cosgrove — given that they’ve already been aboard for a while, having joined the Irish in time for their Italy/Croatia tour earlier this month that included three exhibition games.
“I think they’re all so unique and bring something special,” Turner praised Wednesday.
In fact, Turner’s voice oozed with more enthusiasm while talking about the new quartet than while talking about her own comeback from injury, and she’s duly enthusiastic about the latter as well.
“I think Jordan’s going to become incredible at the point guard spot,” Turner said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman. She’s just so inquisitive. I just like how she moves her body when she plays. She’s so smooth. and then you have Kate. She’s just a long and athletic guard. She’ll be All-(Atlantic Coast Conference) in a couple years. She plays so athletic.
“And then Abby’s such a workhorse. She’s so tough,” Turner continued. “We call her ‘Baby Hulk,’ because of how she is in the weight room. and then Danielle. She’s a stretch four or five who can go out to 3 and also make some great moves inside.
“The four of them, they’re kind of just a little All-American team in their own little corner.”
“They’re all coming along and will give us really good depth,” McGraw concurred.
Besides the four freshmen and the five presumed starters, ND also has center Mikayla Vaughn, who turned heads right away as a freshman last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in late November, and sophomore forward Danielle Patterson.
Vaughn is expected to be cleared for her return in October, while “Dani looked better” on the foreign tour, per McGraw.
Patterson averaged 7.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 17.3 minutes over the three games as the Irish went 3-0 with wins of 103-47 over a group of Italian all-stars, then 88-66 and 62-51 over a group of Spanish all-stars.
Nixon led the Irish in steals with nine. She also averaged 7.7 points and 3.0 assists in 23.7 minutes. Prohaska averaged 7.0 points, Cosgrove 4.0 and Gilbert 3.3.
While it is a small, doesn’t-count sampling, Shepard did pace ND in both scoring (14.3) and rebounds (10.3).
Arike the celebrity
All of the Irish have been unusually busy over this offseason, between basking in a title, completing the foreign tour that only comes once every four or five years, appearing at the ESPYS after ND was nominated for three awards, and in some cases dealing with other increased demands for time.
Final Four folk hero Arike Ogunbowale, though, clearly has everyone beat.
She was also a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” made a TV appearance on “The Ellen Show” and fulfilled multiple other requests. She went to Los Angeles as well for a series of workouts with a trainer.
“I think mentally, she’s in a good place, but it is a lot different,” McGraw said Wednesday of all that Ogunbowale has experienced. “You’re not used to everywhere you go, people know you, and here in town, for sure. It’s a little bigger spotlight. I think she’s handling it well, but it can take a toll on you mentally, so I’m keeping an eye on that.”
At the ESPYS, Ogunbowale was named winner of Best Play for her buzzer-beating shot in the national title game against Mississippi State. She also hit the game-winner with one second left two nights earlier against UConn.
“First, I was just thrilled that she won, because she deserved it, and then her speech was phenomenal,” McGraw said of the ESPYS.
Ogunbowale was quick to thank teammates and coaches who made it possible, then declared a “shout out to women’s basketball as a whole. There’s a lot of people with their opinions about us, but all I gotta say is, ‘Come see us on the court.’ ”
“She’s been such a great representative, not just of Notre Dame basketball,” McGraw said, “but of women’s basketball across the country.”
The season ahead
Notre Dame has yet to release its full schedule, but several dates are known between separate announcements and other teams having posted their schedules.
Among the matchups, the Irish will head to Canada to play three games in the Vancouver Showcase, Nov. 22-24, beginning with a Thanksgiving afternoon contest against Gonzaga. They’ll host Iowa on Thursday, Nov. 29, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and will host Connecticut at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2, in the Jimmy V Classic.
Tennessee’s online schedule includes a visit by ND on Thursday, Jan. 24. The Irish also will head to Marquette a few days before Christmas, exact date to be announced, as Ogunbowale returns to her native Milwaukee.
McGraw said Wednesday that 97 percent of last winter’s season ticket-holders have renewed and that there is a list in the ND ticket office of about 200 additional individuals with interest once those sales begin.
“Better get on that list if you want them,” McGraw said.