One-on-one with Head Coach Niele Ivey
Notre Dame women’s basketball Head Coach Niele Ivey spoke with ABC57 about the new season, the difficulties of this season due to the pandemic, and her first win as the head coach.
Allison: Everyone has known you for so many years as an amazing player and an assistant coach, but now you get to be in charge of the program, taking over the reins. What has this transition been like for you and is it starting to set in that it's real, you are now the head coach of this program?
Coach Ivey: Absolutely. It was real on Friday. After that loss, I was like, 'ok.' I felt the weight of that day, but yeah, it's been amazing. I'm just so blessed to be the head coach at the university that's impacted my life in such a profound way, at Notre Dame. I'm just excited and blessed to be here and really enjoy myself with the season starting.
Allison: Getting that first win, doing it on your home court. Just how significant of a moment was that for you?"
Coach Ivey: It was really, really significant. One of the most special things that's happened to me. Definitely top 5 of moments for me. Just to be able to walk into Purcell Pavilion, a place where I spent so many years as a player and as an assistant coach, so many blood, sweat and tears, so much joy, ups and downs. To be able to walk through, walk in that tunnel, walk on that court and just to feel that this is my program now. I get a chance to lead this team that I love so much. It was just a profound moment. It's something I will never forget.
Allison: Of course, the team is coming into this season after having a pretty rough go at it last year. Where do you pick up the pieces here? and kind of introduce us to this team a little bit. What are the realistic goals for the Irish this season?
Coach Ivey: So, last year was a rebuild year, had a lot of injuries, so really tough. So, this year, they've come back, you know, a chip on their shoulder. So, they're excited to be back. I have six newcomers, a freshmen class that's phenomenal. A top 5 recruiting class. A top 5 freshman class and the addition of a transfer in Dara Mabrey. So, very deep this year. We also have Sam Brunelle. She's back. She was a super freshman last year. She's going to be something special for us. But I just love their energy. When I come in every day, they want to work. They're very coachable. They love this university and they've really bought into my vision. So, I'm very fortunate to have a great group to work with.
Allison: And for you, you talk about the challenges coming in first time as a head coach, having a rebuilding year last season, and then, on top of that, you have a pandemic that has really just changed the way everyone lives life, let alone coaching a basketball program. How have you managed those challenges and how do you navigate that this year?
Coach Ivey: It's definitely a challenge. You know, I always feel like I've got two games. I've got to beat COVID when we take our tests and then, I've got to beat our next opponent. But at first, you've got to get through the COVID piece. It's definitely a new normal for us, but we've navigated really well.
Allison: Of course, you have some huge shoes to fill in Muffet McGraw. But she is still very active on campus, here in our community, around the country. How much have you tapped into her as a resource? Or is she hands off right now and just letting you navigate the program on your own?
Coach Ivey: I've been hands on with her. Since I've been back, we've had multiple meetings. Social distancing on her porch, having lunch, Zoom calls, on the phone, through text. She's been an incredible resource. I am so grateful that she's stepped away and that she's really happy. But she's also, she's here she's always made me feel that she's here if I need her.
Allison: Of course, she's so active in the community. She's also a huge proponent for women, not only in sports, but just in powerful roles and you are a woman, a woman of color and you are in a very powerful position, but also you were an assistant in the NBA, a male-dominated field. Where do you feel your responsibility lies in that? Is it a lot to take on, or is it something that you've embraced?
Coach Ivey: I've embraced it and I honestly didn't know the magnitude until I went to the Grizzlies of just being a female on that staff. Obviously, I knew I was breaking barriers and being a trailblazer, but until I was actually in the moment, in the games, in the arena to feel the magnitude of my presence, I think I was prepared for this moment, being the first African-American female head coach here at Notre Dame.
Allison: And you're also wearing a few different hats. Because you're not only a head coach, but you're also a mom. Your son, Jaden, is now at Purdue playing basketball for Matt Painter, just incredible. What is it like to watch your son now, have the opportunity to fulfill his dreams on the basketball court?
Coach Ivey: It's so, so amazing! That has been his dreams, to play in college, to play beyond high school. To watch the work that he's put in. I'm just so proud of him. I'm so proud that he's living his dream, just like I am. I'm always running to the tv, trying to figure out, 'Ok, which games are outside of my schedule? When can I see him?' I drove up to see him yesterday after practice and so that was really special. My first time seeing him in his environment and his first home opener. So, that was really exciting. But I'm just a proud mom and I'm just so proud of the man that's he's become and I'm just looking forward to his future.