Notre Dame women's basketball: Eventful offseason for Irish

CURT RALLO South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

It's been an amazing spring for Notre Dame women's basketball coachMuffet McGraw, from coaching in the Final Four, to playing on thesculpted course of Augusta, legendary home of the Masters.

McGraw's break from basketball will be brief. Camps, workouts,recruiting and a European hoops tour will chew up the swelteringsummer days, but the respite that the experience of a lifetime atAugusta offered will be savored by McGraw.

"It was fantastic, an unbelievable experience," McGraw said of golfingAugusta. "We were pinching ourselves, making sure we were reallythere. I was so busy looking around, at just the beauty of the course,that I didn't take the time to say, 'Oh, that's where that guy madethat incredible shot,' or, 'this is that famous hole.' I was justlooking around saying, 'God, it's beautiful.' Each hole wasspectacular."

Jimmy Dunne, who is on the Notre Dame board of trustees, set up theopportunity for McGraw and her husband, Matt, to golf on the historiccourse. Phil Purcell also helped set up the golfer's dream.

"It was funny, because Jimmy Dunne was going to get me on the coursewith some other people, and he told Phil (Purcell), and Phil said,'Oh, no. She won't go without Matt. You have to bring both of them.'"McGraw said. "So Jimmy worked out another date where Matt could come.As it happened, it was on his birthday, so that was a pretty specialbirthday gift.

"There are no ladies' tees, so I had to hit from the members' tees,which was interesting for me. But I did OK. Matt did really well."

Matt McGraw also did really well on his return home. He recently hitan ace on Notre Dame's Warren course, his fifth hole-in-one.

Braker update

Ariel Braker, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, underwent a "scope" procedurerecently to check to see if she suffered a ligament tear in her knee.No tear, but there was a need to clear out some floating cartilage.McGraw expects Braker to be ready to play by next week.

"It was good news," McGraw said of the report from the medical staff."She hasn't had any problems.

"I'm hoping Ariel has a good summer as far as playing basketball.She's never had one. We really, really want her to be able to focus ongetting stronger."

Taking the point

There has been speculation that sophomore Jewell Loyd will move fromthe two-guard to point guard to replace graduated all-American SkylarDiggins, but McGraw doesn't see that in the plans for next season.

Incoming freshman Lindsay Allen, sophomore Michaela Mabrey and juniorWhitney Holloway will compete for the point guard spot.

"That's such a key position, so I'm really glad we're going to Europeand getting in some games," McGraw said. "That will give us anopportunity to look at Whitney and Michaela and Lindsay at the point.

"I would not see Jewell at the point. I can see the ball in her handsand bringing the ball up in transition, but not as a point guard,bringing it up every possession."

European tour

Notre Dame planned a European tour, and then backed off the plan whenit appeared that incoming freshmen Taya Reimer and Allen would play onthe USA under-19 national team.

Reimer and Allen decided to come to Notre Dame early, so the EuropeanTour is back on.

"We had planned on going to Europe, but there is a rule that freshmencan go on a foreign tour, but only if they're in summer school,"McGraw said. "When Taya and Lindsay chose to go to summer school, wedecided to go back to having the tour.

"The foreign tour is critical, because of a couple of reasons. One isleadership. Obviously, Skylar Diggins was a great leader for us, andnow we have a void there. We need to work on who is going to be theleader. This is going to be a great time for leadership and bonding.That all takes place on the court as well as off the court. It's atime for the upperclassmen to establish themselves as leaders."

Notre Dame's last foreign tour in women's basketball was prior to the2009-2010 season. The Irish used to tour to install the Princetonoffense.

"A foreign tour is a great time to get in extra work," McGraw said."We get 10 extra days of practice. We'll want to look at developingmore of a post presence. We'll have a taller team, so we want to workon looking inside. We'll give the freshmen a chance to play. It's agreat opportunity for the freshmen and the returners who are comingoff the bench to fight for playing time."

Notre Dame's tour will be from Aug. 3-13. The Irish will play threegames, one in London, one in Madrid, and one in Barcelona.

New rule

Women's basketball fans will see a 10-second backcourt rule in effectfor the first time in the college game.

"I don't know if it will change things," McGraw said. "It may maketeams press a little more. The way it would affect us is defensively,if we can force some more violations."

ACC meetings

McGraw said that the recent Atlantic Coast Conference meetings -- herfirst as the Irish are leaving the Big East for the ACC -- were anoutstanding experience.

"I felt really accepted," McGraw said. "The ACC is really excited tohave us in the league. Because of our past success, there was acertain amount of respect. It felt good how they talked about us, andhow we could help the league stay as the best conference in women'sbasketball."

As the college landscape undergoes a number of changes, McGraw thinksthat the Notre Dame administration made the right choice in decidingto join the ACC.

"It's a very proactive league," McGraw said of the ACC. "It's aconference where they're very interested in what's going on with theNCAA and where women's basketball is going. It's clear that academicsare a priority in the league. The faculty reps were invited to themeetings, as well. The ACC was the No. 1 conference out of the BCSconferences in terms of academic performance. That's the league wewant to be in. That's why we're here."

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw doesn't foresee Jewell Loyd switching to point guard next season.