Road trip? ND's Niele Ivey plans to drive from Connecticut to Philly to see son Jaden play
SOUTH BEND — Talk about juggling basketballs while jumping through hoops.
The manner in which Niele Ivey navigated preparing her team for its NCAA Tournament women’s games and watching son Jaden Ivey on TV in the men’s tourney last weekend was nothing compared to what the Notre Dame coach is intending to undertake Friday.
Ivey says that after ND wraps up its assigned practice time in Bridgeport, Conn., at 2:40 p.m., she’ll drive to Philadelphia — roughly three hours and 150 miles — to watch Jaden and Purdue in person against St. Peter’s at 7:09 p.m.
She says she’ll make the commute alone and meet up at the game with two of her former Irish teammates, Julie Henderson and Kelley Siemon Deyo.
Then it’s back to Bridgeport after that Sweet 16 contest in time to get some rest before ND (24-8) tips off its own Sweet 16 battle at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against top-seeded North Carolina State (31-3).
“It’s a blessing that we’re within driving distance,” Ivey said Thursday shortly before her team’s final on-campus practice ahead of an afternoon flight out East.
Ivey says she didn’t even realize that Philadelphia was where Purdue would go next until after the Boilermakers advanced with a 71-61 win late Sunday night over Texas in Milwaukee.
“I was like, oh, he’s in Philly, but I tried not to look (ahead),” Ivey said. “I was like, I gotta focus on Norman, Oklahoma, then figure out what’s gonna happen after that.”
That focus proved plenty sufficient. Ivey steered the Irish to a 108-64 win over the host Sooners on Monday, setting a record for the greatest margin of victory ever by a lower-seeded team in either men’s or women’s NCAA Tourney play, as well as a program standard for points in a tourney game.
ND already had won Saturday, 89-78 over UMass, the night after Ivey watched Jaden and the Boilers dismiss Yale, 78-56, in the men’s first round the previous afternoon.
Ivey says she feels “way more” stress watching Jaden than she does coaching her own club. There’s far less control after all.
“I was super stressed watching him (Friday and Sunday), and then when he and the team won to go to the Sweet 16, it gave me a lot of confidence,” Ivey said, “like, OK, I gotta follow what Purdue and Jaden just did.”
As Ivey witnessed Jaden’s games on TV, there were occasional cut-ins by CBS to a seconds-delayed feed of her, her assistants and some of ND’s players watching together from Norman.
“(CBS) asked if they could have a live stream link, and I was like, sure, just make sure that I’m PG,” Ivey said with a laugh. “Thank God it was on mute.”
Irish guards Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey agree that Ivey’s self-description of being stressed during Jaden’s games is not an exaggeration.
“She’s everywhere,” Miles said with a giggle of how her coach moves around, “getting up close to the TV and cheering him on, and she kind of has to look away when he fails. It’s just normal motherly reaction. I like seeing how invested she is in his success.”
So does Mabrey, and it’s not just because Niele’s her coach, but because Jaden’s her friend.
“We all love Jaden,” Mabrey said. “He could be walking the ball up the floor and we’re into it, and every time he goes up for a shot or dunk, everybody’s immediately up off their chairs, but that’s just the family atmosphere we have here. You all share that special bond.”
Mabrey’s bond with Jaden goes back several years. She remembers as a kid, when Ivey was an ND assistant, going to Irish games and hanging with Jaden while she was watching older sisters Michaela and Marina play.
“We really bonded over basketball and it’s awesome to see him have this success,” Mabrey said. “He has such a great work ethic for the game.”
While she has admitted that she might be biased, Niele Ivey nonetheless beams with unflinching pride and a radiant smile every time she’s asked about her son.
“I’m just so proud of him,” Ivey said Thursday. “He’s born for the big stage. He’s always thrived in these types of situations. He’s dreamt of this, so to watch him carry out part of his dream is just so incredible. Then for myself to do the same thing, it’s just really cool. It’s a special bond that we have in basketball.”
A bond stuffed with support even when not together in person.
Ivey says Jaden has texted “words of encouragement and celebrating” before and after games as much as she has.
“Hopefully, we can both keep dancing,” Ivey said of the tourney metaphor for advancing.
The women’s Final Four will be April 1 and 3 in Minneapolis. The men’s will be April 2 and 4 in New Orleans.
If the Irish women and the Boiler men are both still playing to the end, traveling between those sites within those time frames with those requisite obligations will seem unfathomable, although with Niele Ivey, it might be wise not to rule anything out.