Notre Dame womens' basketball: Will Irish find identity in Europe?


Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw wants to get in some shopping at Harrod’s, the famed London department store, during the team’s European tour of England and Spain.

That’s definitely going to happen.

McGraw would also like to see newborn Prince George.

That’s not going to happen.

The chances of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ushering in McGraw and the Irish for a peek at the royal baby is about as likely as Geno Auriemma insisting what a great idea it was for Notre Dame to leave Connecticut behind and move to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The top items on McGraw’s to-do list in Europe, though, are for her team to make significant progress in finding a point guard and start carving out an identity.

If that happens, the Irish will have a head-start on making an impact in their first season in the ACC.

Notre Dame left Saturday for a 10-day European Tour that includes stops in London, Madrid and Barcelona. The Irish will play English Basketball League runner-up Barking Abbey at 1 p.m. ET Tuesday in England. Notre Dame faces on the Netherlands National Team at 1 p.m. ET Thursday at Lloret de Mar near Barcelona, and plays the Dutch team again at 10 a.m. on Aug. 11, in Madrid.

When the Irish aren’t practicing or playing games, they’ll be playing the part of tourists while seeing Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The Prado and the Sagrada Familia, among other sites.

Getting Notre Dame’s four freshmen familiar with the system is also a priority for McGraw. Point guard candidate Lindsay Allen is joined by 6-foot-3 Taya Reimer, 6-3 Kristina Nelson, and 6-4 Diamond Thompson.

“We’re going to be a bigger team,” McGraw said. “I think we’re going to look really good in the lobby. Whether or not we look good on the court, what’s what we’re trying to find out.”

Height helps, but finding a replacement for graduated All-America point guard Skylar Diggins is critical.

“We have a whole new identity every year, but this year is particularly difficult, coming in looking for a point guard,” McGraw said. “Michaela Mabrey came into camp really, really ready to go. Lindsay Allen is a very talented freshmen, and Whitney Holloway is a great defender. We’ve got some options, and we’re trying to figure out who is going to be the missing piece to the puzzle.”

Senior Natalie Achonwa said that the Irish are excited about the European Tour.

“Coach McGraw and the staff do a great job of making sure that we’re enjoying every moment of what we’re doing,” Achonwa said. “Even when they recruit, they recruit great people, not just basketball players. They know the importance of enjoying the culture, enjoying the trip, but also getting done what we need to on the court.”

Fellow senior Kayla McBride said that the team and coaches have been focused on helping the freshmen transition to the Irish program.

“I think for the freshmen, it’s kind of hard,” McBride said. “They’re stepping into a program, and we’re building. After losing Skylar Diggins, we have to rebuild all over again. They have to do that with us, and kind of catch up. So it’s hard, but our coaching staff is amazing at that. They’ve been with the freshmen every step of the way.”

Reimer, who played for Hamilton (Ind.) Southeastern High School, said that the European Tour will be a huge benefit.

“For the freshmen, it’s good to have these practices and go overseas and play those games, because we’re getting a head-start compared to freshmen at other schools,” Reimer said. “I’m looking forward to be able to play real games and play this system.

“Team chemistry is really important. Since the four freshmen are new to the team, we’re not used to how the older players play. It’s important to have this trip so we can get used to each other and build that team chemistry which will help us in the actual season.”

Notre Dame sophomore Jewell Loyd suffered a sprained ankle during Friday’s practice, and will probably be sidelined for the games in Europe. Loyd averaged 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a game last season, and is being counted on as a leader for the Irish attack.

“Unfortunately, she’ll probably be on crutches for most of the trip,” McGraw said. “It’s really a shame. We were really looking forward to having her out there, but, unfortunately, I don’t think she’ll get to play in any of the games.”

The end of summer school late last week marked the start of a foreign tour for guard Kayla McBride and the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, which is off to Europe for some sight-seeing and game competition.