Dara Mabrey ready to contribute whenever NCAA allows

Anthony Anderson I Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

Dara Mabrey’s not sure whether the NCAA will allow her to play women’s basketball for Notre Dame next season.

That decision is pending for the Virginia Tech transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

She’s just sure Notre Dame is where she wants to play, regardless of when she’s next allowed to do so.

“I mean, why not?” Mabrey said Friday afternoon by phone from her Belmar, N.J., home when she was asked why she signed with the Irish on Thursday after nearly three months in the transfer portal.

“Notre Dame has everything I was looking for,” Mabrey said. “Competing for an (Atlantic Coast Conference) championship, competing for a national championship, the academics are great, the people are great. It feels like home in all those aspects.”

Notre Dame’s already been home to both of Mabrey’s sisters. Fellow guards Michaela and Marina finished their four-year Irish careers in 2016 and 2019, respectively.

Michaela, in fact, has returned, entering her second season as an ND assistant.

“Yeah, that’s definitely a unique situation, but a positive situation,” Dara said of being coached by her sibling. “Some people may think it’s a negative, but she’s already coached me before. She was an assistant on my AAU team for a couple years. I know her as my sister and as my coach. She’s going to be coaching me a lot because she coaches the guards, and I’m excited that I’m going to be able to continue to learn from her in a new atmosphere.”

When Dara Mabrey does take the court for the Irish, it will mark the first time that three sisters from the same family have played for the program at some point. There have been at least three instances of two sisters competing for the Irish.

Mabrey was initially recruited by Notre Dame out of high school, before the Irish eventually opted to go a different route.

If hard feelings arose, they weren’t significant enough to create an ongoing roadblock.

Before retiring in April, Hall of Fame Irish coach Muffet McGraw had already expressed interest in Mabrey again. And again, the interest was mutual.

The change in head coach to longtime Irish assistant Niele Ivey did nothing to diminish that.

“It obviously didn’t make me lose interest at all,” Mabrey said. “I’m as excited as ever. (Coach Ivey) has known me since I was a little girl and is somebody who has helped me throughout my career — even at Virginia Tech. She’s a person I’ve always reached out to for motivation, courage and insight.”

Mabrey becomes Ivey’s first incoming transfer.

“I just love her competitive drive, her competitive spirit. She’s a winner,” Ivey said Friday afternoon of Mabrey. “Outside of her really impressive guard play and her ability to stretch the defense, she already has ACC experience as I build this team.”

Ivey says it would be difficult to speculate on how quickly the NCAA will make a decision regarding Mabrey’s eligibility, let alone what the decision will be.

“It takes a little bit of time following admittance. You have to go through the paperwork,” Ivey said. “You just never know with that.”

Mabrey says she would definitely prefer to begin her Irish career immediately, but understands she may have to wait until the 2021-22 season.

A recent proposal to the NCAA to allow all basketball and football transfers a one-time waiver from sitting out a year was rejected in May until at least 2021. Players, though, can still receive waivers under certain hardship circumstances.

Mabrey says that she prefers not to discuss the circumstances of her transfer from Tech.

“I kind of knew I needed to find a new home, so I put my name in the portal,” Mabrey said. “Let’s just stick with, I needed to find a new place to truly feel happy.”

Despite her inside familiarity with Notre Dame by virtue of two sisters playing there, Mabrey “didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket,” so she did explore other schools as well.

Doing so during a pandemic presented special challenges, but she discovered benefits in the situation, too.

“It was difficult, a little weird. I had a lot of virtual tours and Zoom calls with coaching staffs,” Mabrey said, “but it also forced you to communicate the right way and build relationships.”

That’s not the only way the pandemic has impacted Mabrey. It’s also reaffirmed her love of basketball.

“It wasn’t really a challenge for me, because I legally had access to a gym and still do,” Mabrey said of maintaining regular workouts. “Plus, with the weather now and things opening back up, Jersey has put its baskets back up in the parks. Also, my older brother (Roy Jr., a coach and former collegiate player) started a virtual fitness program and I do a lot of that.”

She’s not getting tired of it.

“This pandemic has shown me how much I truly want to get better,” Mabrey said. “You may not have everything, but if you have a ball and an open space, you can improve yourself. You don’t even need a basket. It’s shown me again how much I love the game.”

At 5-foot-7, Dara Mabrey is smaller than 5-10 Michaela and 5-11 Marina, but her game still showed up big for the Hokies.

As a freshman, she not only averaged 11.2 points and 2.7 assists in 28 minutes per outing while starting all 34 contests on her way to ACC all-freshman honors, but ranked third in the nation in 3-point accuracy at 80-of-173 for 46.2%. Tech finished 22-12 overall, 6-10 in the league.

As a sophomore this past season on a better club, Mabrey shifted from point guard to shooting guard. She averaged 11.9 points in 32.5 minutes while starting all 30 games. The Hokies went 21-9 and 11-7 with hopes of an NCAA Tourney bid before that event was canceled due to the pandemic.

Mabrey’s 3-point shooting dipped, but she still finished at a favorable 36.4% on 75-of-206.

For her college career, Dara’s long-distance and free-throw accuracy each rank ahead of those posted by her sisters, who likewise counted those areas as strengths.

Dara’s at 40.9% outside the arc. Marina, now with the WNBA’s Dallas Wings, closed at 40.0 and Michaela 39.6. At the line, Dara stands at 83.9% to 81.7 for Marina and 81.2 for Michaela.

Nevertheless, “I would say I would like to be labeled a point guard first,” Dara shared, “rather than stuck with being just a shooting guard, but really, maybe just a combo guard. I’m super, super excited that I’ll have somebody like Coach Ivey who can help me become a better point guard, because that’s what she was, but I’ll do whatever helps our team win. If you need me to bring the ball up the court, feed the post for one half, then get myself open for shots the second half, I’ll do that.”

Mabrey’s arrival gives Notre Dame 14 scholarship players, unusually high for the Irish, but still one less than the NCAA limit.

That figure includes everybody back from last season’s 13-18 club (8-10 ACC) except point guard Marta Sniezek plus the five incoming freshmen who collectively form the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, per ESPN.

Destinee Walker and former walk-on Nicole Benz are the lone scholarship players expected to exhaust their eligibility after the coming season.

Ivey has already picked up commitments from guards Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, ranked Nos. 2 and 16 by ESPN in the Class of 2021.

Virginia Tech guard Dara Mabrey (4) dribbles the ball as Notre Dame’s Abby Prohaska (12) defends on Jan. 16, in Blacksburg, Va. Mabrey has transferred to Notre Dame and will now be a teammate to Prohaska.