Alli Campbell’s had some hard screens set on her during her career, but she’s never been blindsided quite like this.
“I’m still trying to process everything,” the prized Notre Dame women’s basketball recruit said Wednesday afternoon by phone less than two hours after she learned that Muffet McGraw is retiring as Irish head coach and that Niele Ivey is succeeding her.
“I’m sad, I’m shocked, and I’m also excited for coach (Niele) Ivey,” Campbell said.
Campbell and Nat Marshall, two members of an ND recruiting class that is ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN, both said they plan to honor the Letters of Intent they’ve signed to play with the Irish.
“This doesn’t make me reconsider at all,” Marshall said Wednesday evening from New York. “Of course, my hope was to be playing under coach McGraw, but I also love coach Ivey.”
Marshall and Campbell participate in a regular group chat with fellow 2020 recruits Maddy Westbeld, Alasia Hayes and Amirah Abdur-Rahim.
“No one has said they’re reconsidering,” Campbell shared. “We’ve been talking, and I think we’re all so shocked. But I think we’re all excited as well, because we’ve all built a relationship with coach Ivey as well.”
“It sounds like everyone’s still on board,” Marshall concurred. “We all really love coach Ivey.”
Marshall and Campbell both said that Ivey, a longtime former ND assistant, was actively involved in their recruitments before she left after the 2018-19 season to join the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant.
“At this point, yes,” Campbell said of whether she’ll still be joining the Irish, despite the fact that players switching schools is more prevalent than ever on the NCAA landscape.
“I’m excited to get to work, but I do hope the assistant coaches are able to stay,” Campbell added of Irish aides Carol Owens, Beth Cunningham and Michaela Mabrey, “because we’ve built good relationships with them as well. It would be hard if those three left, so I hope they get to stay.”
Mabrey’s younger sister, Marina, a standout guard on ND’s 2018 national title team and now a member of the WNBA’s Dallas Wings, acknowledged by phone Wednesday that she knew about McGraw’s retirement a day earlier than most, having gotten the word from Michaela.
“I was pretty surprised, but once I was told, it was like, ‘Oh, I can see that,’” Marina Mabrey said.
“She wants to do some other things now, and I think it’s awesome that she can do that,” Mabrey said of McGraw. “I don’t think you could ask for any more than what she’s done. She’s had an amazing career. She’s built an awesome program, and I think it’s going to keep going in the right direction.”
Mabrey and other former players participated in a Zoom chat on Wednesday.
Current players and the incoming recruits joined McGraw and Ivey for a 2 p.m. Zoom chat, just a half hour before the university issued a news release announcing McGraw’s retirement, and 45 minutes ahead of a release announcing Ivey’s hiring.
“As soon as we got the news, we broke out in tears,” Campbell said of McGraw retiring. “I think everybody was surprised.”
Campbell, a guard and three-time reigning Pennsylvania Class 2A state player of the year, said the possibility of McGraw leaving was never discussed while she was being recruited.
“I suppose I wondered if that could happen, figured she might be getting near the end of her career,” Campbell said, “but it was never talked about. I was hoping so hard that I would be playing for her.”
“I think, obviously, she’s a great loss not only to the team,” Marshall said of McGraw, “but to the program and the university as a whole. We were all excited to be coached by her, but I think she’s earned this. She’s been coaching for 33 years (at Notre Dame, after five as head coach at Lehigh).”
Among current Irish players, several posted messages to and about McGraw on Twitter.
“To hear this was the hardest news I’ve ever had to endure,” Sam Brunelle tweeted in part. “I am forever grateful for the love and passion you put into our team every single day. I’m forever grateful for you taking a chance on me to become Irish.”
Anaya Peoples, like Brunelle a part of this past season’s All-Atlantic Coast Conference freshman team, tweeted that “I learned so much in one year from you ... I am honored to have played for such a strong, powerful and confident woman. Thank you coach McGraw ... from the bottom of my heart.”
“THANK YOU for pushing me, believing in me, and showing me what leadership looks like,” sophomore Abby Prohaska tweeted. “You have changed the game and women’s sports forever. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to pursue my dream. It was an honor playing under you.”
Marshall, a 6-foot-5 forward from Queens, N.Y., who suffered a torn ligament in her left knee on Dec. 4, said her recovery is “going real well, but with this pandemic, I haven’t had the ability to go into therapy as much as I’d like.”
She said she’s not sure whether she’ll be ready for the start of next season.
“I don’t know,” Marshall said. “I hope so, but the pandemic is slowing everything.”
Marshall is ranked No. 19 in her recruiting class nationally by Prospects Nation and No. 34 by ESPN.
Campbell checks in at No. 21, per Prospects Nation, and No. 27, according to ESPN.
Westbeld, a forward, is rated 20th by ESPN and 27th by Prospects Nation.
Hayes, a guard, is No. 44, according to ESPN.
Abdur-Rahim, a 6-2 forward, is not ranked in either top 100, but has drawn praise from McGraw for her athleticism and potential to defend.