Jan. 9, 2001
by Tom Kolbe
When Ruth Riley stepped onto campus at the University of Notre Dame over three years ago, she was completely unaware of the legacy she would create over the course of her four seasons with the Irish.
The senior from Macy, Ind., entered the 2000-01 season with numerous accolades she provided herself from last year when Riley became the first Notre Dame women's basketball player to be named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, the United States Basketball Writers Association (USWBA) and KODAK, in addition to being named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-BIG EAST selection. Riley also earned the United States Basketball Writers Association Women's Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year award and was named a first-team GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-American, becoming the first basketball player in Irish history to earn both athletic and academic first-team All-America honors in the same season.
Entering this year, Riley continued to pile up the honors as she was named a preseason first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated for Women, the Women's Basketball Journal and Lindy's, while Athlon Sports named her to the second team and ESPN Magazine named her a preseason "PTPer."
"It is hard not to pay attention to those honors," says Riley. "But my job is to go out there and play my hardest for the team and all that other stuff will come on its own."
Nearly halfway into her senior season, Riley continues her success while also leading her team to a perfect 12-0 record and a national number-three ranking. While leading the Irish in several categories this season, Riley has established herself as a top candidate for National Player of the Year Honors while putting her team into contention for an NCAA championship.
"I have earned my share of honors at Notre Dame," Riley says. "The one thing I really want is a national championship. That is what I am concentrating on - winning a championship is my ultimate priority."
While being in contention for the Naismith National Player of the Year Award, Riley admits it would be a great honor to win that award. But it is equally as great to be mentioned atop the list of great players in college basketball.
"I am honored to be listed among such great players. I see my name up there with those from Connecticut and Tennessee and can't believe I am being mentioned among such elite company," Riley says.
Through the first 12 games this season, Riley is the team leader in points (184), scoring average (15.3), offensive rebounds (24), defensive rebounds (58), total rebounds (82), free throws made (44), free throws attempted (56), field goals made (70) and field-goal percentage (.619).
While leading her team in a large majority of categories, Riley is quick to credit her teammates for her success and the early-season record of her team.
"We have so many good players on this team," says Riley. "Niele (Ivey) is one of the best point guards in the nation. Alicia (Ratay) is the best long-range shooter in the country. Kelley (Siemon) is a great rebounder and a good playmaker and Ericka (Haney) is probably the most talented all-around player on the team."
Throughout her first three seasons with the Irish, Riley enjoyed being part of teams that fielded an overall record of 95-20, while advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and junior and losing in the second round as a sophomore. With Riley, the Irish have posted an overall record of 5-3 in the NCAA tournament.
While being part of so much success throughout her Irish career, Riley believes the best is yet to come as, in her mind, this year's team is the best team she has played on while at Notre Dame.
"We have so much potential and we know what it takes to win," says Riley. "We have learned from the past and we believe we have what it takes to win a national championship."
The challenge that awaits the Irish will be from the number-one team in the nation and fellow BIG EAST school, Connecticut. While Riley admits she is looking forward to hosting the Huskies on Jan. 15, she also points out the Irish are not looking past anyone they play ahead of UConn.
"We have not looked at that game. But it is in the back of our minds and we feel comfortable with our chances. They are a great team, but we have a lot of confidence and momentum right now."
While being part of the BIG EAST Conference, Riley admits when the Irish begin playing the league schedule, they will have their work cut out for them every game. While being part of perhaps the best basketball conference in the country, Riley looks forward to the competition that the BIG EAST will provide her.
"The BIG EAST has so many good team this year," says Riley.
"It will be a challenge every night when we play teams like Connecticut and Rutgers that are top 10 teams and other teams like Virginia Tech and Boston College that are extremely tough. We look forward to the competition, but we also know that we need to be at the top of our game."
While Riley's lone goal this season centers around success as a team, she cannot ignore the fact that she has established herself as one of the greatest players to ever wear a Notre Dame uniform. She currently ranks high in several categories and is the Irish all-time leader in field-goal percentage (64 percent), career blocked shots (287) and blocks per game (2.68).
"It is good to know that I have accomplished those records," says Riley.
"But records are meant to be broken and I am sure someone else will come along and break them someday."
She also ranks fourth with 1,584 career points, third with a scoring average of 14.8 per game, sixth with 602 field goals, second with 280 free throws made, third with 506 free throws attempted, fifth with 808 rebounds, sixth with an average of 7.6 rebounds per game, tied for seventh with 100 games started, third with 84 double-digit games and sixth with 22 20-plus scoring games.
"I really have not followed the record books that much," says Riley.
"I feel I have been very successful here and I credit my teammates and my coaches for much of my success."
While Riley has firmly established herself throughout her career with the Irish, she realizes that her playing days are nearing an end.
Riley looks to conclude her playing days on a high note, preferably with two victories at the end of March at the 2001 NCAA Women's Final Four in St. Louis, Mo., and a national championship while earning her degree in May in psychology and sociology.
"I want to play in the Final Four in St. Louis," says Riley.
"That is a goal of the team and would be an excellent way for our five seniors to go out."
While being one of the leaders on this year's team that features five seniors, Riley believes that despite the loss of leaders such as herself and Ivey, the Irish will be just fine in years to come.
"I try to lead by example," says Riley.
"It always falls into place and someone always steps up. They will have six freshman next season, but I think they will be just as good with Ericka (Haney) and Alicia (Ratay) stepping up as leaders."
With Riley's days at Notre Dame nearing an end, she cannot help but contemplate what the future holds for herself. While she expects to be a hot commodity for the next Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft, she sees many opportunities that lie ahead and is determined to make the best of each opportunity.
"When my days at Notre Dame are over I hope to play basketball somewhere. The WNBA would be great and there are also opportunities overseas for me to play. Whatever I decide to do, I am determined to make the most out of every opportunity anyone gives me," Riley says.
Riley will always remember the memories while at Notre Dame, and she hopes that she has one fond memory that she can always be proud of. However, she believes her greatest moment at Notre Dame has yet to come and she looks forward to what that memory may be.
"I hope my best memory is yet to come," says Riley.
"I want to be able to look back on something we did as a team. I think a national championship would be the perfect memory to look back and treasure."
One memory Riley is sure to never forget will be the moments she was able to share with her coaches and teammates. While she is quick to give her teammates credit for many of her accolades, she is even quicker at sharing her thoughts about those who have helped her.
"All the coaches and every teammate who I have ever had here have been great," says Riley.
"Everyone has been so willing to help me and I am extremely grateful for my great coaches and teammates who care so much for my success and the success of this team. Everyone has been completely dedicated to the task at hand and their hard work has not gone unnoticed by me."
One teammate who has helped Riley the most has been fellow classmate, Meaghan Leahy. After coming in together in 1997, Riley and Leahy have become good friends and Riley has fully enjoyed her friendship with Leahy.
"Meaghan has been great and we get along really well," says Riley.
"I also get along really well with the others from the team and I have fully enjoyed being part of this class that features Meaghan, Niele, Kelley and Imani (Dunbar). It will be hard leaving this group of players."
While Riley is sure to be successful in her next task, she has managed to build a legacy for herself at Notre Dame that stands above many and is rivaled by few. While she would not admit that she has developed into a Notre Dame women's basketball legend, one scroll through her honors and achievements would suggest her standing among the elite players in the history of Notre Dame athletics.
"I think I have been successful here," says Riley.
"But I do not think I have been that great. That just goes to show that a supporting cast of great coaches and teammates can propel you to any level."
Regardless of how Riley was propelled to such a high level, she is sure to be used as a measuring tool for many athletes to come. While she has made a mark on the history of Notre Dame women's basketball, she is sure to rise to the top of whatever she chooses to do next in life.