ND women make their only 2022 early-signee recruit count with Ohio Miss Basketball KK Bransford
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame women’s basketball, with oodles of room on its scholarship roster under NCAA rules, added just one player Wednesday during the opening day of the early signing period, but what a one it is, according to coach Niele Ivey.
The Irish secured the signature of KK Bransford, a 5-foot-11 guard from Cincinnati and the reigning Ohio Ms. Basketball as she heads into her senior season at Mount Notre Dame High School.
“I think the sky’s the limit. I think she’s capable of making an immediate impact,” Ivey said, adding that Bransford can comfortably play four positions.
“I think with her athleticism and her skill set, it’s going to be a very easy transition for her in college,” Ivey said, “and that’s the same thing that happened with Maddy Westbeld (also from Ohio, and the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year after last season). KK has a college body right now.”
She also has a winning habit that’s been uninterrupted over her last 72 high school games.
Rated the No. 20 high school senior by Prospects Nation and No. 29 by ESPN, Bransford led coach Scott Rogers’ MND club to a 28-0 record and a state crown in Ohio’s largest-enrollment division last winter.
She also paced the Cougars to a 28-0 mark as a sophomore, though that season’s state tourney was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was a leading player as a freshman when MND went 27-2 with a state title.
“(Bransford) was someone I targeted right away,” said Ivey, who returned to her alma mater as head coach in April 2020 after a year as an assistant with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. “Just a phenomenal young woman on and off the court … and what she does on the court, she’s versatile, reminding me a lot of (ex-Irish stars) Jackie Young and Arike Ogunbowale.”
Unbeknownst to Ivey and to her future ND teammates, Bransford drove from Cincinnati to Notre Dame on Oct. 7 to walk into practice and let them know her college choice.
“The way she surprised us, making her commitment, was something I’ve never been a part of,” Ivey said. “It was a really, really special day. It was one of the best surprises I’ve ever had.”
“The family atmosphere … it was like you couldn’t get that anywhere else,” Bransford said of Notre Dame when she announced her college selection publicly on Oct. 8.
Bransford considered a long list of traditional powers, including Connecticut, Baylor, Louisville, Maryland and Tennessee before picking the Irish. Others in the mix were Michigan, UCLA, Arizona, Texas, Duke and North Carolina.
“It was really competitive,” Ivey said. “She had incredible schools on her list.”
Bransford averaged 21.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 3.0 steals and shot 51.5% from the field as a junior, leading the Girls Greater Catholic League in each of those categories except rebounding, where she was third.
As a sophomore, she averaged 19.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals, pacing the Cougars in each, and as a freshman, she finished at team bests of 15.7 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Along the way, Bransford’s been surrounded by other Division I players. Michigan freshman Laila Phelia was a senior teammate last season, Dayton’s Makira Cook a senior teammate the year before and Iowa’s Gabbie Marshall a senior teammate when Bransford was a freshman.
As for Notre Dame’s roster space, Ivey said Wednesday she’s “very open” to adding players after this season, possibly through the transfer portal, but also said she sees a scenario in which it might be “great” if Bransford’s the lone addition.
While Maya Dodson, Dara Mabrey, Katlyn Gilbert and Abby Prohaska are all seniors, or beyond, in terms of how long they’ve been in college, each could potentially gain another year of eligibility next season based on the NCAA’s extra-year COVID rule.
The Irish currently have 10 scholarship players. The NCAA allows 15.
“My philosophy is to have about 12 on the team,” Ivey said. "... After the season, it’s going to be an assessment for our coaching staff. As you saw last year, there was a lot of (transfer) movement, so definitely open to whatever comes our way or whatever’s best for this program. For me, it’s about fit. If I bring someone in here, it’s because they’re the right fit.”