Irish Connection provides a feature on men's basketball athletic trainer Skip Meyer working his 1,000th game at Notre Dame, the women's basketball trip to New York and hockey's recent Practice on the Pond.
Notre Dame Women's Basketball defeated Connecticut 96-87 in triple overtime on Monday, March 4, 2013.
One of the finest point guards ever to wear the University of Notre Dame uniform, Niele Ivey (first name pronounced knee-L) rejoined the Fighting Irish women's basketball program as a member of head coach Muffet McGraw's staff in May 2007.
Now in her eighth season as an assistant coach at Notre Dame (she added the title of recruiting coordinator in 2012), Ivey is the common link between all six of the school's Final Four appearances (four as a coach, two as a player) and works closely with the development of the Fighitng Irish point guards, while serving as the architect of program's remarkable recruiting success, and making major contributions to game scouting, practice planning and summer camp coordination.
Since Ivey joined the Notre Dame coaching staff seven years ago, she has helped the Fighting Irish post a 214-39 (.846) record, including four NCAA Women's Final Four berths, three NCAA title game appearances and five conference championships (three regular season, two tournaments split between the BIG EAST and Atlantic Coast Conference). In that same span, Notre Dame has been ranked among the top 10 in the nation in scoring offense, assists and assist/turnover ratio four times, punctuated with a school-record 86.1 points per game (second in the nation), 765 assists (second in the nation) and 1.39 assist/turnover ratio (fifth in the nation) in 2013-14.
In addition to her achievements in player development with such protégés as Skylar Diggins and current sophomore Lindsay Allen, Ivey also has emerged as a rising star on the recruiting trail, with a sharp eye for young up-and-coming talent. In fact, she has helped Notre Dame attract top-10 incoming classes each of the past five years, including top-five groups during the last three seasons (incoming classes of 2012-14).
What's more, Ivey has shown the ability to quickly flourish when it comes to scouting and in-game strategy. In the past four years alone, she has been directly responsible for creating the game plans that led to victories over Tennessee (four times), Duke (four times), Connecticut (three times), Maryland (twice), Louisville (twice), Syracuse (twice), Baylor, Texas A&M, UCLA and Purdue, among many others.
A former All-America point guard at Notre Dame and a five-year WNBA veteran, Ivey has brought her considerable experience to bear on the Fighting Irish floor generals, most recently taking Allen under her wing and helping the Mitchellville, Maryland, native to one of the finest rookie seasons by any point guard in program history. Allen became the first Fighting Irish point guard in two decades to start on opening night and thanks to Ivey's instruction, all Allen did was lead the ACC and rank 30th in the nation in assist/turnover ratio (2.24), while also placing seventh in the conference with 3.9 assists per game (her 150 total assists were a school record for freshmen, smashing Mary Gavin's 29-year-old mark).
In addition, Allen was outstanding in the 2014 NCAA Championship, averaging 4.7 assists per game with a 5.6 assist/turnover ratio (28 assists, five turnovers), with the latter figure ranking second among all players in the tournament who saw action in more than one game. Subsequently, Allen earned third-team Freshman All-America honors from Full Court Press.
Prior to mentoring Allen, Ivey was primarily responsible for supervising the growth of Diggins, one of Notre Dame's legendary greats in any sport and a four-time All-America point guard. Under Ivey's guidance, Diggins made a seamless transition from shooting guard to point guard during her final three seasons, emerging as one of the nation's elite players to become one of just three two-time recipients of the Nancy Lieberman Award (nation's top point guard) and a two-time consensus first-team All-America and BIG EAST Player of the Year selection before being chosen third overall in the first round of the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Tulsa Shock. She went on to be a first-team All-WNBA selection in 2014 after earning WNBA All-Rookie Team honors a year earlier.
Diggins also is part of the 2014-16 USA Basketball Senior National Team player pool and was a finalist for the 2014 USA Basketball World Championship Team that earned a gold medal in Turkey. She remains a vital young contributor to USA Basketball fortunes and is expected to be a leading contender for a spot on the USA Basketball roster heading into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Thanks to Ivey's mentorship, Diggins became the first Fighting Irish player and one of only four NCAA Division I players during the 10-season period from 2001-02 to 2012-13 to register 600 points, 200 assists and 100 steals in a single campaign, pulling off that feat in each of her final two seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13). She also owns the top two single-season steals totals in school history (114 in 2012-13, 102 in 2011-12), as well as two of the top three single-season assist marks in the Notre Dame record books (225 in 2012-13, 222 in 2011-12). Her 657 points in 2011-12 rank sixth on the school's single-season chart, one spot higher than her 631 points as a senior in 2012-13. In addition, she posted the third-best assist-turnover ratio (2.16 in 2011-12) by a Fighting Irish player in one season (only eclipsed by Ivey herself - 2.67 in 2000-01 - and Allen last year).
In each of her final two seasons at Notre Dame, Diggins ranked among both the NCAA and BIG EAST leaders (all games) in assists, steals and assist/turnover ratio. She also wrapped up the 2011-12 BIG EAST regular season (conference-only) statistical titles in assists (5.8 apg. - the second Notre Dame player to win the BIG EAST assist title, and first since Ivey in 1999-2000), steals (2.6 spg.), and assist-turnover ratio (2.3).
Besides her seasonal awards, Diggins was a three-time NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player (2010-Dayton; 2011-Raleigh; 2012-Norfolk) and was a member of the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Teams, becoming the first Notre Dame cager to be selected for either honor twice in her career.
Diggins graduated in 2013 as the holder (or co-holder) of no fewer than 32 game, season or career records at Notre Dame, and ranks among the top five on an astounding 105 of the program's game, season or career charts, including school records for career points (2,357), steals (381), games started (144) and double-figure scoring games (121), just to name a few.
Ivey's success with Diggins came on the heels of her work with two other standout Notre Dame point guards -- Tulyah Gaines (2007-08) and Melissa Lechlitner (2008-10) -- who enjoyed the best seasons of their careers under Ivey's experienced eye. Lechlitner was at the helm to begin Notre Dame's recent string of some of the more efficient offensive seasons in program history, including her senior season (2009-10) when Notre Dame posted a 1.11 assist/turnover ratio, one of five times in Ivey's tenure the Fighting Irish have had a positive ratio (after doing so once in the program's first three decades -- Ivey's final season in 2000-01).
Ivey came back to Notre Dame following two seasons (2005-07) as an administrative assistant on the women's basketball staff at Xavier University, where she served under former Notre Dame assistant coach Kevin McGuff (now the head coach at Ohio State). During Ivey's two seasons at Xavier, she coordinated film exchange and assisted in many of the daily operations of the Musketeers' program, including travel, academics and community outreach.
"Niele is really a rising star, a rock star if you will, in the coaching profession," McGraw said. "She does so many things for us, from recruiting to working with our guards, and every year she continues to grow and develop as a coach. She's gotten more involved in adding new wrinkles to our offense and defense, and expanding her knowledge by going out and talking to other coaches about different aspects of the game.
"She's got to be known as one of the best recruiters in the country and certainly with our point guards, she does just a phenomenal job," McGraw added. "Like Beth (associate coach Beth Cunningham), Niele is another former player from our program who went on to play professionally and now is showing our current players how to get there, and our players really respect her for that."
Ivey sat out most of her freshman season at Notre Dame (1996-97 Final Four campaign) after suffering a season-ending knee injury five games in. However, she was awarded a fifth year of eligibility in 2000-01 and made the most of it, earning third-team Associated Press All-America honors, the first Fighting Irish point guard to be so recognized. She also was the recipient of the 2001 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award (nation's top senior player standing 5-foot-8 or under) and was a finalist for the 2001 Nancy Lieberman Award. In addition, Ivey made the 2001 Final Four All-Tournament Team after averaging 16.5 points and 5.5 steals per game as the Fighting Irish defeated Connecticut and Purdue to win their first national title.
All told, Notre Dame went 109-22 (.832) during Ivey's last four seasons, reaching the NCAA Sweet Sixteen three times (1998, 2000, 2001) and rolling up a (then) school-record 34 wins in 2000-01. The Fighting Irish also won a share of their first BIG EAST regular-season championship in 2000-01 and were ranked in the top 10 of either or both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls for all but two weeks during her final three campaigns. While at Notre Dame, Ivey was a three-time all-BIG
EAST selection (1999-2001), collecting first-team honors in 2001, and was tapped as the BIG EAST Player of the Week five times. She also led the Fighting Irish in steals in each of her final four seasons (1997-98 to 2000-01) and was the team's assist leader in her last three years, setting school records with 95 steals in 1999-2000 (since topped by Diggins) and 247 assists in 2000-01, along with a school-standard 2.67 assist/turnover ratio the latter season.
For her career, Ivey has a place on 16 of Notre Dame's all-time top 10 lists, including the Fighting Irish records for steals (348, since topped by Diggins). She also among the program's all-time leaders with 727 assists, a 5.5 assist-per-game average, a 2.6 steals-per-game mark and 132 career games played.
Ivey went on to play five seasons in the WNBA, beginning with her selection by the Indiana Fever in the second round (17th overall pick) of the 2001 WNBA Draft. She spent four seasons with the Fever, helping them to the first playoff berth in franchise history in 2002. Ivey signed with the Detroit Shock as a restricted free agent in 2005, and subsequently was acquired by the Phoenix Mercury later that season.
A native of St. Louis, Ivey graduated from Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in history. She and her son, Jaden (12), make their home in South Bend.