Notebook: Ogunbowale continues to set the gold standard for Notre Dame women's hoops

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Apparently Arike Ogunbowale still hasn’t cooled down from her sizzling performance in the NCAA Tournament.

The Notre Dame junior-to-be was one of 12 players still standing on Friday after five days of trials narrowed the Team USA Under 23 women’s basketball team from 36 candidates to its final roster.

The trials were held Monday through Friday at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next up for Ogunbowale and her teammates is the 2017 U23 Four Nations Tournament (USA, Australia, Canada and Japan) Aug. 12-15 in Tokyo, Japan.

No player among the 40 invited has won more medals in international competition than Ogunbowale, who has four golds and a silver already.

The 5-foot-8 guard from Milwaukee was ND’s top 3-point shooter (.454) and leading scorer in 2016-17, at 15.9 points a game, but she put up 32 and 25 in back-to-back NCAA Tourney games after All-America center Brianna Turner suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Joining Ogunbowale on the team are Ariel Atkins (Texas), Monique Billings (UCLA), Kalani Brown (Baylor), Jordin Canada (UCLA); Asia Durr (Louisville), Sabrina Ionescu (Oregon), Brittany McPhee (Stanford), Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State), Jamie Nared (Tennessee), Mercedes Russell (Tennessee), and A’ja Wilson (South Carolina).

The head coach is Louisville’s Jeff Walz.

Three other Irish players were invited to the trials — sophomore-to-be Jackie Young, Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard and junior Marina Mabrey. Mabrey was a scratch because of a lingering ankle injury.

“It’s pretty much the top 40 players in the country in college,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw told the Tribune in a phone interview, “so just to be invited you’re talking about possible All-America status. It’s pretty exciting.

“Jackie Young was one of the youngest players out there. This was a great experience for her. She’s going to be more aggressive this season for us, and I’m expecting big things from her.”

Whither Brianna Turner?

Glimpses this summer by McGraw of her own team’s future were muddled a bit by uncertainty in the present.

Specifically when it comes to senior post player Brianna Turner.

The rehab on her surgically repaired left knee has gone smoothly with no setbacks, but the decision on whether the two-time All-American will play at all in the coming season won’t likely be made until September, McGraw said.

Turner (15.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) suffered an ACL tear March 29 during a second-round NCAA Tourney win over Purdue (88-82 OT) and underwent surgery on April 12. But where Notre Dame missed the ACC’s leading shot blocker (2.46 bpg) the most over the balance of the tournament was on defense.

The Irish, the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Regional, reinvented themselves as a small-ball team, and trounced a size-gifted Ohio State squad in the Sweet 16 (99-76) before narrowly falling to 2 seed Stanford, 76-75, with a Final Four berth on the line.

ND allowed more than 75 points only five times during the 2017 season, but three of those came in the two games Turner missed and the one in which she was injured.

If Turner is not available this season, repeating and refining the small-ball approach is one option.

Another might be plugging the 6-foot-4, Shepard into the lineup. Maybe.

McGraw said the Irish are exploring whether applying for a hardship waiver for immediate eligibility for Shepard makes sense. As it stands, the former national Freshman of the Year and All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore at Nebraska must sit out the coming season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

“I think we have to plan on not having Jessica this season,” McGraw said, “but we’re going to put the paperwork together and see what happens.”

Turner was one of three Irish players who underwent offseason surgery, another reason McGraw doesn’t yet have a distinct feel yet for how the four new roster pieces will blend with the returning players.

A 10-day trip to Italy and Croatia, scheduled for this past Monday through July 9, was postponed until the summer of 2018 for a multitude of reasons, including surgeries for starting forward Kathryn Westbeld (ankle) and backup guard Mychal Johnson (shoulder).

There was also a conflict involving grad school classes for Lili Thompson and Kristina Nelson, the transfers of Erin Boley (to Oregon) and Ali Patberg (to Indiana), and the conflict with the Team USA tryouts for four Irish players.

As far as Westbeld’ status, McGraw said she’s expected to be 100 percent by September, with Johnson projected to reach that status in late September/early October.

Sizing up the newcomers

Prior to this past recruiting cycle, McGraw had never taken a recruited transfer since taking the Irish head coaching job in 1987.

Now she has two — point guard Lili Thompson from Stanford, a grad transfer with immediately eligibility, and Shepard, a junior-to-be with two years to play at ND.

“It’s tough for us academically to get kids that are the level of the Notre Dame requirements,” McGraw said. “It’s tough to accept a lot of the credits.

“We’ve looked at a few transfers over the years, but I’m really picky because of the chemistry. Team chemistry is so important, so it’s really got to be the right fit. And both Lili and Jessica are great fits for us.”

Also joining the roster are freshmen Danielle Patterson, a 6-2 forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mikayla Vaughn, a 6-3 center from Fairfax, Va.

• On Thompson, a 5-7 projected starter who takes over for WNBA rookie Lindsay Allen: “Lili is really smart, and I think she’ll be a really good leader. She is a quick learner. She is more of a scoring point guard than Lindsay was, but she can do a lot of things.

“Great handles, great passer, good defender.”

• On Shepard: She’s really, really good. Jessica is a different kind of player than we’ve ever had. She’s a big kid but shoots 3s and is a great passer. She’s going to be so good in our offense, because the high-post passing skills she has are phenomenal.

“She can rebound. She can score inside, but she can also face up and make shots.”

• On Vaughn: “I’m really pleased with the way Mikayla Vaughn has really stepped up. You never know until they get here what their transition is going to be like, but she made a really smooth transition. She was terrific in the weight room, in practice.

“She’s one of those kids that never stops moving. She has a great work ethic and wants to learn. She’s a relentless rebounder, which is something we really need. She’s got some work to do, but she’s made a good impression on us.”

On Patterson: “Danielle is developing and wants to learn. She’s a little newer to the weight room than Mikayla was. She has a good work ethic, has done everything we want her to do.

“My goal for her would be to help us defensively in the press, with rebounding, running the floor and doing the little things.”

Remembering Ara

McGraw ‘s path didn’t cross that of iconic football coach Ara Parseghian’s that often over the years. But whenever it did, he made a big impression.

“It was such a thrill to see him, and yet he was so approachable, you could just go up and talk to him,” said McGraw of the man who died Wednesday at the age of 94 and who will be honored Sunday with both a Mass and memorial celebration on campus.

“What a great guy. He kind of represented all the great things about Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame junior-to-be Arike Ogunbowale made the USA U23 Women's Basketball Team that will compete in an international tournament next week in Tokyo, Japan. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)