Muffet McGraw to enter Notre Dame's Ring of Honor

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw holds a piece of the net after her team defeated Louisville in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Atlantic Coast Conference women's tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, March 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

SOUTH BEND — The Notre Dame women’s basketball Ring of Honor is about to welcome the architect who built those rafters into such a prestigious landing spot in the first place.

Former Irish coach Muffet McGraw will be enshrined in the ring at Purcell Pavilion during ceremonies before ND’s 2 p.m. game on Dec. 12 against Purdue Fort Wayne.

Long renowned for her level of preparation, McGraw has already begun pondering what words she might share six weeks from now.

“I was thinking last night, ‘What am I gonna say?’” McGraw said Monday afternoon by phone, “and I was like, ‘Oh, oh, I better review it a few times,’ or I’m going to be needing some tissues.”

Although McGraw four years ago already achieved what’s generally perceived as basketball’s highest honor — induction into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame — and although she has experienced countless other salutes, she says this one hits differently.

“This one is just so much more special because of all the people,” McGraw said. “This was my home for those 33 years, and every night I went into the arena and was surrounded by so many amazing people between the women I coached and the assistant coaches, but also the fans, the band and everybody that works in the Joyce Center.

“I feel like that’s my second family,” McGraw said, “so this one is a little more emotional than some of the others.”

With McGraw in charge, Notre Dame rose from a fledgling Division I program into one of the nation’s premier powers, engaging a passionate and ever-swelling fan base along the way.

When she arrived at ND in 1987, she could count the fans during the national anthem. When she retired in April 2020, home sellouts were not uncommon.

McGraw steered the Irish to national titles in 2001 and 2018, each coming on an Easter Sunday.

From 1996 to 2019, Notre Dame made 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, advanced to 17 Sweet 16s and roared into nine Final Fours, including five national runner-up finishes.

McGraw’s 936 wins rank ninth among all Division I men’s or women’s basketball head coaches. She closed her career at 936-293 over 38 seasons, including 848-252 with the Irish after five years at Lehigh.

Off the court, McGraw, 65, has become recognized as a leading voice nationally in advancing the presence of women both inside and outside of basketball.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged in 2020, the newly retired McGraw threw herself even deeper into her volunteer work, spearheading food drives around the community.

She’s in her third semester teaching a sports leadership class at Notre Dame, and she’s part of ESPN’s coverage of women’s basketball on the ACC Network. Her first studio appearance in that role, in Bristol, Conn., is slated for Tuesday after she handled the job remotely last season.

“She is legendary, she is excellent and she deserves to be celebrated for all of her accomplishments on and off the floor,” current Irish coach Niele Ivey said of McGaw on UND.com. “She is a force and inspiration to all women. ... I’m so grateful that I have learned and been mentored by her as both a player and coach.”

McGraw becomes the seventh Ring of Honor recipient on the women’s side. She’ll join six of her former players in Ruth Riley-Hunter, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Ivey, Beth (Morgan) Cunningham, Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa in having RoH banners waving at Purcell.

Including the men’s side, McGraw is just the second coach to be honored, joining Digger Phelps, and just the third Naismith Hall of Famer, joining Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley.

A three-time consensus national coach of the year and seven-time conference coach of the year, McGraw coached 22 All-Americans, 20 WNBA players and five Olympians.

Notre Dame’s basketball ring of honor debuted in 2010. It includes nine inductees from the men’s program in addition to McGraw becoming the seventh from the women’s side.

Recipients are selected by current head coaches and sports administrators.

“I was anticipating it going to Arike (Ogunbowale),” McGraw shared of what might’ve happened if it was still up to her to make those decisions. “That would’ve been my vote.”

GAME COVERAGE

For coverage of the Notre Dame women's basketball exhibition season opener Monday night against Emporia State go to NDInsider.com