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 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 sixth season, Ivey works closely with the development of the Notre Dame point guards, while serving as the program's recruiting coordinator, and she also has made major contributions to game scouting, practice planning and summer camp coordination.
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 supervising the growth of Notre Dame's three-time All-America point guard Skylar Diggins. In the past two seasons alone, Diggins has emerged as one of the nation's elite players (let alone point guards), highlighted by her selection as the 2012 Nancy Lieberman Award (nation's top point guard) and consensus first-team All-America and BIG EAST Player of the Year honors following the 2011-12 season.
Thanks to Ivey's mentorship, Diggins became the first Fighting Irish player and just the fourth NCAA Division I player since 2001-02 to register 600 points, 200 assists and 100 steals in a single season, pulling off that feat last year. In fact, she set a school record with 102 steals, while her 222 assists were third-most on the Notre Dame single-season list, and her 657 points ranked fourth on the school's single-season chart. In addition, she posted the second-best assist-turnover ratio (2.16) by a Fighting Irish player in one season.
In 2011-12, Diggins was the only BIG EAST player to rank among the top five in the conference in three of the five major statistical categories. She led the conference in both assists (5.7 apg. - 16th in nation) and steals (2.6 spg. - 55th in nation), and she was fourth in scoring (16.8 ppg. - 70th in nation), while also posting her conference-best 2.16 assist-turnover ratio (10th in nation).
Diggins also wrapped up the 2011-12 BIG EAST regular season 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 chosen as the 2012 NCAA Raleigh Regional Most Outstanding Player and was a member of the 2012 NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team, becoming the first Notre Dame cager to be selected for either honor twice in her career (she was the 2011 NCAA Dayton Regional MOP before making the Final Four squad).
Ivey's success with Diggins comes 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 for two of the most prolific offensive seasons in Fighting Irish history, including the 2009-10 campaign when Notre Dame averaged 77.2 points per game and posted a 1.11 assist/turnover ratio, one of four times in Ivey's first five seasons the Fighting Irish have had a positive ratio (after doing so in the program's first three decades -- Ivey's final season in 2000-01).
In addition to her achievements in player development, 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 three years (since she took over as associate recruiting coordinator and later the main recruiting responsibilities).
Ivey also has shown the ability to quickly flourish when it comes to scouting and in-game strategy. Last season, she was directly responsible for creating the game plans that led to victories over nationally-ranked Georgetown, Syracuse, West Virginia and Tennessee, the last of those coming in the NCAA Elite Eight (Dayton Regional final) to help the Fighting Irish advance to the Final Four for the third time.
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 the University of Washington). 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. Following her arrival on the XU campus in 2005-06, the Musketeers posted a 47-17 record, winning the 2007 Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2003.
"It's been amazing to watch Niele grow as a coach," McGraw said. "Her experience in the WNBA has really helped her become a great coach. She's been a student of the game for so long and now she has the opportunity to teach it. She does a great job of teaching the game, has great passion for the game, and is someone that we all truly enjoy being around. She also the added benefit of having already walked in the shoes of our current players and knowing what it takes to succeed at the highest level here at Notre Dame. The sky's really the limit for what she can accomplish in the coaching profession."
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, presented annually to the nation's top senior player standing 5-foot-8 or under, and she was one of three finalists for the `01 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 on three occasions (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). She also is second in school history with 727 assists and a 5.5 assist-per-game average, as well as 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 (10), make their home in South Bend.