Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw puzzled by Jewell Loyd exit

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – It was supposed to serve as a celebration of another spectacular season, one that saw the Notre Dame women’s basketball team win 36 games and advance to the NCAA tournament championship game for the fourth time in the last five years.

From setting the school record for most home wins (19) and most wins over ranked teams (8), to a senior class that closed their collegiate careers with the most wins (143) over a four-year period in program history, the list of successes was long for the Irish who finished 36-3, 15-1 in the ACC.

But the absence of one player, the program's best player, subtracted from what the night was expected to be.

Guard Jewell Loyd was named the Notre Dame Monogram Club most valuable player and the Woody Miller player of the year Tuesday during the annual Notre Dame women’s basketball awards banquet in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. But after a stunning turn of events last week in Tampa, Fla., shortly after Notre Dame lost to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game, Loyd is now a former Notre Dame guard after she told coach Muffet McGraw that she would skip her senior season to enter the WNBA draft.

Loyd is a likely Top 3 pick in Thursday’s selection process.

Loyd is in New York preparing for Thursday’s draft and did not attend the team banquet. Tuesday was the first time that McGraw spoke publicly about a decision that she learned of "about an hour" after Notre Dame's final game. It's one that she has seemingly struggled with over the last week.

Acceptance won’t come easily for the Hall of Fame coach.

“I was shocked when Jewell told me she was leaving,” McGraw told WSBT’s Carl Deffenbaugh prior to Tuesday’s banquet. “We’re incredibly disappointed in so many ways. It was a real blow.

“It was a bad day.”

Bad in the fact that because of WNBA draft regulations, there was very little time for McGraw to convince Loyd that she should return to school for her senior season. Loyd, who told McGraw late the night of April 7, had about 24 hours after that to officially declare for the draft. The deadline for her to do so was 11:59 p.m. on April 8. McGraw said that Loyd had told her “three or four weeks ago” that she would be back next season, even though, at age 22, she was WNBA draft eligible.

McGraw had few reasons to think twice about Loyd changing her mind – until Loyd told her that she had indeed done just that.

It likely took a while for McGraw to process that the first team Associated Press All-American and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year would not return to chase another league championship and Final Four in 2016.

“I think I was numb,” McGraw told WSBT. “I don’t really know what her reason is (for leaving). I don’t know.”

Few do. A Tribune request for an interview with Loyd through her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, was declined. The Tribune also contacted the WNBA communications department in an effort to arrange an interview with Loyd. The WNBA indicated that Loyd would do only one exclusive interview prior to the draft with an unspecified media outlet.

Loyd was the second player last week to leave school early and enter the WNBA draft. Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. left after two seasons of competition.

Prior to that, only two players had previous left school early for the WNBA.

“It’s just mind-blowing that anyone would choose to leave early,” McGraw said. “It’s a really bad decision for women especially to try and leave early. They’re not going to make the money that men make.”

McGraw indicated that Loyd, even though she’s expected to be a high pick, likely will earn “less than $50,000” in her first season. While Loyd moves on to the next phase of her basketball career Thursday, McGraw will move on to plans for the 2015-16 season without one of the game’s elite talents.

It won’t be easy, even for a veteran coach who has seen and done and won a lot. McGraw admitted Tuesday that she’s still not over the shock of hearing Loyd tell her she was ready to be a pro.

“It’s going to take a while,” McGraw said.

Other award winners Tuesday included freshman forward Brianna Turner (defensive player of the year), sophomore forward Taya Reimer (most improved player), junior guard Hannah Huffman (Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley student-athlete award) and senior guard Whitney Holloway (spirit award). Holloway and fellow senior Markisha Wright averaged 35.8 wins per season.

Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd (32) was honored Tuesday with two awards during the women's basketball banquet, but was not present to receive either of them.AP Photo/JOHN RAOUX