Women's basketball: Ivey dishes on transfers, recruits and upcoming season

Anthony Anderson
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey questions a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

SOUTH BEND — Division I women’s college basketball players have ventured into the NCAAtransfer portal nearly 2,500 times over the last two years.

Head-spinning comings and goings have become the norm all over the country.

Nevertheless, third-year Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey never wanted her program to be one of the ones that would pad the transfer stats, and she certainly doesn’t intend for such an active revolving gate at Purcell Pavilion going forward.

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Still, with the Irish losing four players by way of transfer for a second straight offseason, Ivey was busy replenishing her roster, and was willing to be busy this week discussing it two days before practice officially tips on a promising 2022-23.

“I honestly walked into some new rules,” Ivey said Monday afternoon of the NCAA in 2020 granting most players an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic and in 2021 relaxing its transfer guidelines by allowing all athletes at least one-time movement without sitting out a season.

“It’s not something you can be fully prepared for,” Ivey said, “but I’ve tried to navigate it the best I can. It’s part of the college landscape now.”

Departing ND since the end of last season to play elsewhere are Sam Brunelle (Virginia), Anaya Peoples (DePaul), Abby Prohaska (San Diego State) and Katlyn Gilbert (Missouri), who all had spent at least three years in the Irish program.

“I felt like I had good relationships with those that left after last season, but everybody has to do what’s best for them,” Ivey said. “I also wanted them to have an opportunity to graduate, so I made sure I honored that.”

Prohaska, Gilbert and Brunelle each left campus with degrees already earned, Brunelle getting hers in just three years.

In contrast to the four individuals who severed playing ties with the Irish in 2022, three out of the four the year before — Alli Campbell (Penn State), Alasia Hayes (Mississippi State) and Amirah Abdur-Rahim (SMU) — were coming off just their freshman seasons. They were joined in leaving by Danielle Cosgrove (St. John’s), who moved on after three years aboard.

Part of a recurring theme, Cosgrove and Campbell each landed at schools in their home states, as did Brunelle and Peoples a year later, while Hayes was reunited with two sisters.

“I feel like everyone has their own personal reasons,” Ivey said of whether the traditional reason of insufficient playing time was a factor for the majority of the eight players moving on, “but that’s definitely part of it. You never really have to worry about that (meeting playing-time desires) as an assistant, but now you’re the decision maker in charge of minutes. Roles on the team were probably a factor. Players wanted bigger roles.”

For all the movement the Irish program has experienced the last two offseasons, there’s also this — Ivey still has not lost any player to transfer that she’s brought aboard since becoming head coach in April 2020.

“Knock on wood,” the coach said with a slight laugh.

In fact, knock hard, because she says she’ll never add any player with the intention of losing theplayer to transfer.

“No coach wants to,” Ivey said. “What I want is that everyone who chooses to come to this university has a great experience. That’s something I’m always striving for. My biggest wish is that nobody wants to leave. But I’m going to be 100% supportive if they do, and I’m going to continue to work on building my roster with the right fits.”

Reupping and restocking

In addition to the four players who transferred, all backups, the Irish also lost first-teamAll-Atlantic Coast Conference forward Maya Dodson off last season’s team when the NCAAdenied Dodson’s appeal for another year of eligibility.

However, four starters do return from that 24-9, Sweet 16 club in Olivia Miles, Maddy Westbeld,Dara Mabrey and Sonia Citron. Miles joined Dodson on last season’s All-ACC top unit, while Westbeld won ACC Rookie of the Year in 2021 and Citron in 2022.

Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame High School senior KK Bransford, now at Notre Dame, is a two-time Ohio Miss Basketball.

Further, four new scholarship players have arrived in freshman KK Bransford (two-time Ohio Ms.Basketball) and transfers Kylee Watson (Oregon; three seasons of eligibility remaining), JennaBrown (Stanford; two) and Lauren Ebo (Texas; one).

When Bransford signed last November, Ivey likened her in varying ways to two former Irish starsin Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young.

The coach’s enthusiasm hasn’t lessened with Bransford’s arrival on campus.

“Oh my goodness, she’s been a joy and everything I imagined, a perfect fit,” Ivey said. “She has a high IQ, has picked up the offense so well and had a terrific summer. She’s done a great job embracing the weight room. That was an easy transition for her, because I felt like she already had a college body in high school.”

In Ebo, Notre Dame added “a pure center,” according to Ivey, “something we didn’t really have last year unless you count Maya, who was a 4 and 5.”

The 6-foot-4 Ebo averaged 8.0 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds while helping the 29-7Longhorns to the Elite Eight last winter as a senior.

Watson, also 6-4, averaged 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 16.4 minutes while shooting a team-pacing 54.8% from the field as a sophomore for the 20-12 Ducks.

“Incredible motor, plays with so much passion and energy,” Ivey said of Watson. “It’s contagious and she’s very athletic. I see a little bit of Maya in how she can run the floor. She’s a versatile post, really good facing you from the high post area, really good with her back to the basket, good defender and good shot blocker.”

In Brown, the Irish picked up more depth for an already loaded backcourt. The great niece of basketball coaching legend Larry Brown sat out the last two seasons while recovering from a knee injury, but is “close to 100%” now, according to Ivey.

Meanwhile, Citron and junior forward Nat Marshall are the full 100%, per the coach.

Citron underwent a surgical procedure on her toe right after last season and was briefly on crutches, but “is fine,” while the 6-5 Marshall missed the final two months of last season with a medial meniscus tear in her left knee.

Eyeing the schedule

Ivey declared herself “super excited” on several fronts regarding ND’s schedule.

There’s the recently announced inaugural Shamrock Classic on Nov. 12 against California, which will return the Irish to St. Louis — the coach’s hometown — for the first time since they won the 2001 national title there when she was the team’s star point guard.

There’s the always monumental task of Connecticut coming to town Dec. 4 as one of basketball’s most storied rivalries is renewed, and the added task of that game coming just three days after ND hosts Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Terps, Huskies and Irish are all expected to be highly ranked in preseason polls.

There’s also the novelty of ND facing multiple teams from both the Big Ten and the Pac-12 within the same regular season for the first time in nine years. Besides meeting Maryland from the Big Ten, the Irish visit Northwestern, and besides facing Cal from the Pac-12, they’ll match up with Arizona State, that game part of the Nov. 24-26 Goombay Splash in the Bahamas.

All of it precedes play in the ACC, widely projected to be the nation’s premier league again.

Notre Dame opens its regular season Nov. 7 by hosting Northern Illinois, one week after a Halloween night exhibition against visiting Truman State