Niele Ivey honored for impact on Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – When the banner is unfurled Sunday, officially adding Niele Ivey into Notre Dame basketball’s Ring of Honor, the memories will come flooding back to her.

• Ivey, 39, will recall the day she met coach Muffet McGraw and decided then and there that Notre Dame was the place for her.

“I didn’t even have to go home to ask my parents,” Ivey said. “I knew immediately this is where I wanted to be.”

• She’ll remember – and cringe a bit – the two ACL injuries (one on each knee; freshman and junior seasons) she was forced to battle through during her five years with the Irish.

“The first ACL taught me I had strength I didn’t know I had,” said Ivey. “Doing it again, it made

me not take anything for granted. I remembered the love and passion I have for the sport. It gave me a sense of urgency.”

• Then she’ll smile about leading Notre Dame to the 2001 national title in her hometown of St. Louis.

“It was God’s plan,” McGraw said of the circumstances that got Ivey and the Irish to the championship.

It will be an emotional experience for the former Irish point guard, who has been in charge of developing guards like Skylar Diggins, Jewell Loyd and Lindsay Allen over the past decade.

As a player, Ivey has a spot on 16 all-time top-10 lists at Notre Dame. She finished her career with 348 steals and 727 assists in 132 games. She went on to play five seasons in the WNBA before transitioning into to coaching world.

“She was such a charismatic player, even in high school,” McGraw said. “She had that infectious, magical draw. I felt a different bond with her than I did with just about any other player. I wanted to take her under my wing and teach her everything I knew.

“The work ethic she had, and how hard she worked on her game (has helped her as a coach). Some players, it comes easy to them. She studied the game. She was always interested in watching and learning.”

And… Ivey was bossy. Yes, bossy, a positive trait for a point guard.

“The big thing about her is communication; being the coach out there on the court,” said Allen. “You’re putting people in the right spots. You’re being bossy.

“(Being bossy) is something I had to grow into. It’s not that hard because it’s what the team needs. To be a point guard, you have to be that way.”

“The point guard is the extension of the head coach,” Ivey said. “I was taught that; being able to demand a presence on the floor; being that voice of the team.

“That’s definitely the first thing I told (Allen). She’s a poised, quiet point guard. (Being bossy) was a conversation we had. I had to calm Skylar down. I had to take some of the bossiness out of her.”

“She was the vocal leader of our (national championship) team,” said McGraw. “Ruth (Riley) was quiet, so Niele had to tell everyone where to go. She was bossy. She pretty much bosses me around now.”

What helps Ivey as a coach is the credibility she carries from the resume she put together as a player. Her achievements on the court made it easy for Allen and her other pupils to pay attention.

“She played here,” said Allen. “She won a national championship. She was the top point guard in the country. She was in the shoes I’m in right now. She’s done everything I want to do at the college level.”

“I carry a lot of pride being here at my alma mater; for coach McGraw and Notre Dame,” Ivey said. “As a player, I always wanted to not disappoint (McGraw). I had that special bond with her.

“My evolution as a coach has come with me being a sponge, listening to all my mentors. At first, I just wanted to be a fly on the wall.

My first week on the staff, I called (all my former coaches) and said, ‘Thank you.’ They said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Before this, I didn’t know how much time and effort was put in as a coach. So, thank you.’

“As a coach, you can tell the players what to do but you can’t physically do it. You have to have passion for the game, but you also have to have patience.”

Combine passion and patience with production, and good things can happen – like being included in the Ring of Honor.

“(I) feel like we’re honoring someone who’s been so important to me as a person and the program,” McGraw said. “To have her receive this honor is probably past due. It’s definitely well deserved.”

“It means the world to me,” said Ivey. “I’m honored to be among so many greats. That high regard is a dream come true. Having made the impact I’ve been able to make here (has been special).”

Ivey was right. Notre Dame is still the place for her.

The Ring of Honor will keep her there forever.

Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, left, talks to guard Arike Ogunbowale (24) during a timeout during Notre Dame's 71-67 win over Green Bay on Nov. 17. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)