Loyd comes of age for Notre Dame women

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Few basketball players can precisely pinpoint their coming of age in the game.

Their hoops Bat Mitzvah, so to speak.

Jewell Loyd has no problem identifying hers.

Last year, while part of the supporting cast in the second round of Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament run against Iowa, the 5-foot-10 guard from Lincolnwood, Ill., drove to the basket, made the layup and was fouled. She then completed the three-point play with a free throw.

After 33 games, it was the first “and-one” of her collegiate career.

“It took me a whole season to get an ‘and-one,’” Loyd said Tuesday night, as the Irish discovered their postseason path. “Everyone on the team was calling me ‘weak.’ Finally, once I got it, I said, ‘It’s time to be aggressive.’

“It meant a lot. I was playing with more energy; more fire. That’s what (former guard) Skylar (Diggins) was trying to get me to do all season, and it finally happened.”

“We had talked about (Loyd’s inability to finish) throughout the year,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “‘You’re strong enough, you ought to be able to score.’ It was so exciting for us and for her (when it happened).

“She had so many big games, but she was always in the shadow (of Diggins). She deferred and played a backseat role. For her to come out like that was really incredible.”

“She was more finesse last year,” Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey said of Loyd’s freshman season. “It was a big thing for her to be able to go down low and score off the dribble.

“We never expected her to be Skylar, but we wanted her to be strong with her left hand. She can raise up and shoot over anybody. I wanted her to come (into this season) working on her one-on-one moves, enabling her to get to the rim better.”

Loyd’s sophomore season has been a significant bump from her rookie campaign. Her scoring (12.5 to 18.5) and rebounding (5.2 to 6.2) averages have improved despite her being a more visible target on the opponents’ scouting report.

“We all know, she’s probably the most athletic (women’s basketball) player to ever come through Notre Dame,” said Ivey. “We knew that last year.

“(Diggins) and (Kayla McBride) took most of the best defenders (last season), so (Loyd) was wide open a ton. They did a really good job of finding her. She built her confidence a lot last season.”

Loyd came into this season fully prepared to make the most of that confidence.

Her brother made sure that was the case.

Since she was old enough to tag along, Jewell treated her brother Jarryd, eight years older than her, as a true role model. Jarryd, 27, played basketball at Valparaiso University, gave professional ball overseas a shot for a couple years, and now runs the Loyd Sports Academy on the north side of Chicago.

Jewell credits Jarryd with the physical, mental – and even spiritual – development of her game.

“(Jarryd) has molded me into this person that our family wants us to be,” Jewell said. “It goes with being a Christian; being humble. For all the ‘glam’ and fame that comes with being a basketball player, that’s for my parents; that’s for the gallery back home. That’s not for me.”

“The No. 1 thing about Jewell that makes her special is her spirituality,” Jarryd said. “She knows the right way to play the game. She has a servant’s attitude. Our family always stressed: Give unto others. Our philosophy has been: Give and you shall receive.

“That’s a big reason why her teammates have always looked at her with respect.”

“She loves to read the Bible,” McGraw said of Jewell. “She’s always posting Bible quotes on her Twitter page. She’s such a humble kid; such a good person. She never yells at her teammates or is in anyway selfish. You could see that in the way she plays.”

That selfless spirit has been instrumental in allowing her to first fit in, then ascend seamlessly into a leadership role within the Notre Dame program. Spending a freshman year with personalities like Diggins, McBride and Natalie Achonwa was a trying time for an athlete who scored over 3,000 points in high school.

“Freedom has been something she’s had to work at while at Notre Dame,” Jarryd said. “In high school, you just create for yourself. In college, especially a place with the talent that Notre Dame has, you put your freedom in a box. You try to figure out: How can I help the team? How can I fit into the system?

“Obedience has always been important to her. She’s worked to see how she could blend together with everyone else and still be able to blossom.

“She had to work on knowing when to pump the gas.”

Jewell put the pedal to the metal in the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game against Duke. With the score tied at 28 at intermission, Loyd scored 18 of her 26 points in the second half and walked off with the tourney’s MVP honor.

“She’s so much more assertive,” McGraw said. “The confidence level she’s playing at (has increased). She has the freedom to shoot the ball whenever she wants to.

“Defensively, she’s really grown. To make the (Atlantic Coast Conference) All-Defensive team was a source of pride for her. She knows that if we’re going to win, she’s going to have to play a big part of it.”

“Growing up, goal-setting has always been important,” Jarryd said. “I’ve always tried to prepare Jewell for future events. When she was in eighth grade, we talked about her being an Olympian. When she was a freshman (at Niles West High in Lincolnwood, Ill.), we talked about her scoring 3,000 points (which she did).

“When she went to Notre Dame, we talked about how she could be one of the best players ever in Notre Dame history.”

The next three weeks will be another chapter in the process.

Another opportunity to come of age.

Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd celebrates a big run during the ACC championship game win over Duke, March 9 in Greensboro, N.C. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)