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.
Diggins scores 22 of her 27 points in first half Sunday and became the school's career scoring leader.
One of the finest point guards ever to wear the 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.
Having recently completed her eighth season at Notre Dame (she added the title of recruiting coordinator in 2012 and was promoted to associate coach in the summer of 2015), Ivey is the common link between all seven of the school's Final Four appearances (five as a coach, two as a player) and works closely with the development of the Fighting 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 eight years ago, she has helped the Fighting Irish post a 250-42 (.856) record, including five NCAA Women's Final Four berths, four NCAA title game appearances and seven conference championships (four regular season, three tournaments split between the BIG EAST and ACC). In that same span, Notre Dame has been ranked among the top 20 in the nation in scoring offense, assists and assist/turnover ratio five 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 proteges as former two-time consensus first-team All-Americans Skylar Diggins and Jewell Loyd, as well as current sophomore (and Associated Press honorable mention All-American) Lindsay Allen, Ivey 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 six years, including top-five groups during the last four seasons (incoming classes of 2012-15).
What's more, Ivey has shown the ability to quickly flourish when it comes to scouting and in-game strategy. In the past five years alone, she has been directly responsible for creating the game plans that led to victories over Duke (six times), Tennessee (five times), Connecticut (three times), Maryland (three times), Louisville (three times), Syracuse (three times), Baylor (twice), UCLA (twice), Texas A&M 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 AP honorable-mention All-America status as a sophomore in 2014-15. Allen led the ACC in assists (5.3 apg.), becoming the fourth player in program history with 200 assists in a single season (205 -- tied Mary Gavin's Notre Dame sophomore record set in 1985-86, while sharing sixth on the overall school single-season list). What's more, Allen led the conference in assist/turnover ratio (2.14) and was one of only seven players in the nation to rank in the 30 nationally in both assists and assist/turnover ratio. She also boosted her scoring output by more than 67 percent from her freshman year (up to 10.4 ppg.) and added career highs in rebounds (3.5 rpg.), steals (1.3 spg.), field-goal percentage (.522), three-point percentage (.370) and free-throw percentage (.854).
Allen earned a spot as one of five finalists for the 2015 Nancy Lieberman Award (nation's top point guard), an accolade Ivey herself received during her senior season at Notre Dame in 2000-01. However, it was Allen's performance at the 2015 NCAA Oklahoma City Regional that opened eyes nationally, as the sophomore was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player after averaging 25.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds with a 2.75 assist/turnover ratio and .576 field-goal percentage during the two-game regional.
Allen made an early statement during her Notre Dame career, producing one of the finest rookie seasons by any point guard in program history in 2013-14. 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 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.
Along with working with Allen, Ivey helped mold Loyd into one of the country's top players from 2012-15. In that three-year period, Loyd developed an offensive package unlike any seen in Notre Dame history, capped in 2014-15 by her 772 points (second-most on the program's single-season charts) and 19.8 points-per-game scoring average (third in school history). The Lincolnwood, Illinois, product also tied the school record with 20 20-point games and set a new mark with four 30-point outings, and her best performances came against Top 25 teams, against which she averaged 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, including a school record-tying 41 at DePaul, 34 against Tennessee and 31 against Connecticut.
Loyd, who elected to forego her senior season to enter the 2015 WNBA Draft, finished fifth on Notre Dame's career scoring list with 1,909 points, while her 17.0 career points-per-game average is second-highest in school history behind current Fighting Irish associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham, who averaged 18.6 ppg. from 1993-97. Loyd holds the school record with seven career 30-point games and ranks fifth with 35 career 20-point games, as well as seventh with 99 career double-figure scoring games (out of 112 times she took the floor in a Notre Dame uniform).
It was no surprise Loyd was chosen as the 2014-15 espnW National Player of the Year, while also ending as the runner-up for the AP National Player of the Year honor and the John R. Wooden Award and emerging as the program's fifth consensus first-team All-America selection, among many other national accolades. Loyd was named the ACC Player of the Year last season and became only the seventh player in ACC history (second in Notre Dame annals) selected as the conference tournament's Most Valuable Player twice. She went on to make the NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team for the second year in a row, joining Diggins as the only Fighting Irish player to pull off that feat.
Speaking of Diggins, Ivey was primarily responsible for supervising the growth of the South Bend native, who blossomed into one of Notre Dame's legends in any sport and one of only seven inductees into the school's prestigious athletics Ring of Honor.
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 Lieberman Award 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). What's more, her 657 points in 2011-12 rank seventh 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 in 2013-14).
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 six 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 AP 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 Lieberman Award. In addition, Ivey made the 2001 NCAA Women's 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 16 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 WBCA/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 (13), make their home in South Bend.