Braker is Notre Dame's unsung hero -- every game
SOUTH BEND -- Dirty work?
Every basketball team needs someone who doesn’t mind cleaning up. No glory. Little fanfare. Just do the job and help the team win.
That’s what Ariel Braker does for the Notre Dame women.
Close enough to see the end of her Irish career in the not-so-distant future, the 6-foot-1 senior post quietly makes her impact.
Monday night, while Jewell Loyd (27 points) and Natalie Achonwa (21 points, 10 rebounds) were stealing the headlines in an 87-72 win over Georgia Tech, Braker left her mark with six points, six boards, and two steals in 18 minutes.
“(Braker) just needs to rebound and defend,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “She’s kind of a ‘glue’ player. She doesn’t need to score. She doesn’t need to get a lot of attention. She’s a blue-collar worker out there. She’ll dive for loose balls.”
One dive Monday night, even with knees that don’t always cooperate, gave an indication to the sort of player she is.
Notre Dame led by 18 with 10 minutes left. It was a very physical game that was anything but fluid. Georgia Tech’s 31 percent field-goal shooting (26 of 83) kept the Yellow Jackets from making a serious run. Still, Braker was committed.
She hit the floor, knocked the ball from Tech’s Aaliyah Whiteside, gathered it in, then passed it ahead to Michaela Mabrey for an easy layup.
“She’ll come up with a big steal or a blocked shot every night,” McGraw said. “We need her to do that.
“She’s a little bit in the shadow, and kind of the unsung hero of the team.”
Braker’s a reluctant hero who gets satisfaction out of doing her job.
“It’s more hustle plays; energy; just trying to get people going,” said Braker. “If we’re having a difficult time, like we were tonight, we need those types of plays to get everyone energized.”
Averaging 3.5 points and 4.8 rebounds with 27 steals, what Braker brings to the Irish is hard to quantify with numbers.
“(I realize I) can’t do everything I did in high school,” said Braker, who was a star at Grosse Pointe (Mich.) North High. “When I finally figured out to focus on the things (Notre Dame) needed me to do, that’s when it came easier.
“It’s not hard (to accept). We’ve been successful. We’ve made it to three Final Fours. If I wasn’t doing my job, we wouldn’t have made it there.”
Sometimes that job isn’t the most glamorous. But, it can be the most essential.
Besides her contributions on the court, one of Braker’s most important duties this season will be to help with the development of freshman post Taya Reimer, who has the potential to develop into a dominant player in women’s college basketball.
“Taya’s a good player. She just needs to build confidence in herself,” Braker said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now, instill confidence in her; reassure her that we need her to score; that we need her to rebound; we need her to play defense.
“She came in, she was really passive. She’s grown. She’s getting better. She’s learning the system more.”
The 6-3 Reimer had five points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal Monday.
“Taya’s a little bigger and, coming in, she’s a lot stronger than me,” Braker said. “I didn’t lift weights in high school. It took me a while. I’m a little undersized (for a) post. It took me a while (to develop the confidence); it took a couple years.”
Between accepting the role and having confidence in the execution, the development process has been a success.
Braker can keep a special season from falling apart.
That’s what a “glue” player does.