Hall-of-famer Muffet McGraw retired after 33 seasons, but her legacy will stay in the Notre Dame family and live on through new head coach Niele Ivey. Ivey was a Notre Dame guard from 1997-2001 and later an assistant coach for 12 seasons under McGraw.
Ivey shared most of Notre Dame's success with McGraw, witnessing both program's national championships — one as a player in 2001 and the other as a coach in 2018. She left Notre Dame during the 2019-20 season to join the Memphis Grizzlies and became the ninth active female assistant coach in the NBA. Ivey tells NCAA.com that South Bend is home and the program has impacted her life more than any place, so it was a no-brainer to return.
“I feel like I'm honestly in a full-circle moment to be back here,” Ivey said. “It is a special place, and I pray that I could do half as well as coach McGraw, but not to try to be her. Just to honor her and continue to try to push this program forward.”
Ivey's NCAA highlights: Niele Ivey's college career at Notre Dame
Ivey's 18-year-old son Jaden was there to support her when she spoke her first words as a head coach to Fighting Irish fans. He sat by his mother’s side to hold her hand throughout the entire press conference. Ivey described it as the most amazing moment she’s ever had with him. Jaden was also wearing his mother’s championship jersey from 2001. It was his idea.
“In the morning he was trying to figure out what he wanted to wear,” Ivey said. “Then he was like, can I borrow your jersey? And I'm like, absolutely, so I'm digging in the basement, trying to find it, found it, and then he just put it on. But I thought that was so special, because it just really represented his support for me and for the university.”
You can see how important this moment was to Ivey and her son when he reaches across to hold her hand when she starts to talk about what McGraw means to her. It starts at the 9:10 mark below.
Ivey tells NCAA.com that her purpose outside of her son is the love of the game, and she’s excited to pay it back in women’s basketball. Although she will be coaching these young women, she's looking to learn from them as well.
“I hope that I can continue to learn and grow by being around them,” she said. “I feel like I've been in this position, because I surround myself with greatness. With my team just seeing them every day, they are my purpose outside of my son. [...] They inspire me every day. Just looking at them, being around them, their energy, their willingness and will to get better and want to get better. That just inspires me."
Niele Ivey plans to make her own stamp, and will merge what she’s learned from hall of fame coach McGraw and Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins with her own personal flare.
“I want to bring a different culture,” she said. “I think that culture is huge and just build the foundation as far as our habits. I want to continue to create that competitive mentality in the classroom and on the court. And then my sole focus is to love, to serve, to mentor. I want them to be able to come in as freshmen, as young women, but also leave better than they came in and be the best versions of themselves. I'm going to try my best to make a well-rounded woman."
Ivey is known for her expertise in recruiting and connecting with players. Although she will be occupied with new duties as a head coach, Ivey still wants to be involved in the recruiting process.
“That's going to be a challenge for me, because I'm a relationship coach," Ivey said. "I was the assistant coach who they always bonded with and talked to, so I'm hoping that I can still have a little bit of that personality. But I am a player's coach, so I plan on just definitely continuing to establish those relationships. Then again, allow my assistants to do their job, but that's just who I am, so I know that I probably can still be very close with recruits and the team.”
Through the challenges, Ivey shared with NCAA.com that she has her supportive staff plus McGraw to lean on as she navigates a new position during the coronavirus pandemic. Before passing the torch, McGraw left Ivey with some advice to use in her journey as a head coach.
“[Coach McGraw] just told me to be myself,” Ivey said. “To continue to use your work ethic, your passion for the university, and she was just so supportive. She just let me know that she's here one hundred percent for me, whatever I need. She's somebody that I lean on. I meet with her every couple of weeks just to kind of check in, but mostly her advice was just to continue to try to do my best, but to try to be myself.”