Jan. 27, 2000
By Ken Kleppel
If every contest in the BIG EAST is a battle, then the Fighting Irish must
certainly boast a strong leader to commandeer the charge. Senior point
guard Niele Ivey is that floor general, and the co-captain is leading her
troops into battle as March approaches.
"She is everything you would want in a leader. She is intense,
vocal and is a prankster on the team," describes senior guard Danielle
Green of Ivey. "She tries so hard to get everybody going. Back in 1996,
when I was injured, I remember watching Niele work so hard as a freshman.
I remember trying to be like her."
Defined by a relentless work ethic on the hardwood in both games
and practice, Ivey takes pride in her teammate's compliment.
"My favorite part of the game is getting everybody else involved,"
the unselfish veteran reveals. "Every time I go into the game, I want to
make sure I can get everyone involved. Also, I emphasize playing defense
because it generates my offense. Those are my goals each time I step onto
Her lofty ambitions are usually accomplished as she has
consistently improved on her 1998-1999 averages of nearly 6.5 assists and
2.7 steals per game. A third-team all-BIG EAST selection and co-winner of
the Notre Dame National Monogram Club MVP Award in 1999, Ivey averaged 13.2
points and 3.8 rebounds a game. She scored in double-figures in 22 of 28
games last season and posted four double-doubles.
All this success would cause anyone to want to play basketball, but
Ivey credits her family for stirring her love of the game.
"My family would be the biggest influence," says Ivey. "I had four
older brothers who were all very good athletes in high school. Growing up
I think I looked up to them a lot, I used to go to a lot of their games and
play at halftime. My mom was very influential too, especially through all
the adversities I had to go through. She is the one who stayed
behind me, supported me and told me I was good enough to continue playing.
Unfortunately for Ivey, two serious knee injuries are among the
major challenges her mom has had to help her through on the collegiate
level. Suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee just
five games into the 1996 season, Ivey was unable to physically contribute
during the program's first trip to the Final Four in 1997.
"The first injury was so hard because we had never been in the
Final Four, and I did not get a chance to play, but it was great for me to
watch," describes the perpetually optimistic Ivey.
Back to full strength and playing the best basketball of her life,
Ivey was on pace for tournament MVP honors at the 1999 BIG EAST tournament.
She had scored 19 points in a quarterfinal matchup with Villanova as she
connected on all five of her shots from the field, including shooting
three-for-three from three-point range, and was perfect on all six attempts
from the free throw line. The next night against Rutgers, Ivey scored 16
points, grabbed five rebounds, recorded six assists, and stole the ball
five times before the injury bug bit Ivey again, as she suffered a torn
anterior cruciate ligament, this time in her left knee, early in the second
"So far, the Rutgers game is the best of my career," claims a
smiling Ivey. "On all levels, I felt the most confidence I have ever played
with in my life. It was fun. I was on cloud nine that day until I went down
with the knee injury. That would have been a career day for me if I hadn't
Nevertheless, the support of her friends provided the proper
remedy for dealing
with another setback.
"The second time around I had a lot of support through families and
teammates. All around the country and around the world, people supported
and showed me I can come back from the injury," Ivey reveals. "Especially
after the first one, coming back playing well and going down again, I knew
I was capable of coming back again. My freshman year was harder because I
was young and didn't know a lot of things I know now. I wasn't as close
with a lot of people and everything was really new to me. My junior year,
there were so many more faces out there supporting me."
Fellow co-captain and roommate, senior forward Julie Henderson perhaps
understands Ivey the best.
"Niele is very determined," Henderson describes. "She has a lot of
heart and it carries over to everyone else. She could have quit a long
time ago after injuring both ACL's but she refused."
Ivey's focus remains consistent with her primary aspiration.
"I am still searching for the top accomplishment, I cannot settle
for anything less," describes Ivey. "I am just happy that I have overcome
these injuries. Going through rehab there was a little saying in the back
of my head that I couldn't do it. Getting out here and everyday doing the
same thing that I did before I got hurt is a great accomplishment because
that was very hard to do. But my number one goal is still to go all the
way to the NCAA title."
As the Irish currently reign atop the BIG EAST, the 2000 campaign
the program's best chance yet.
"I am so happy to be a part of the transition," notes Ivey. "Since
my freshman year, every year we have gone back to the tournament which is
something that hasn't been done before. I am just happy to be that
stepping stone for this program because I think we are going to continue to
be one of the top programs. Coming here, I wanted to help bring this
program to the same level as Connecticut and Tennessee. I think that
everyone who is on the team now, and in the past, has helped it become
that. It is really great to see that the program is getting much more
publicity and that people are following us now."
Ranked eighth in the nation with 6.6 assists a game, and averaging
11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and a team-high 2.7 steals per game, her efforts
are certainly contributing to the group's good fortune.
Her four double-doubles this season earned her a fourth career BIG EAST
player-of-the-week honor during the week ending January 17.
"I am a very scrappy player and give 110 percent," Ivey explains.
"I just put my all into anything I do out there, whether it is trying to
get assists, rebounding or defense. Through my hard work, I get good
results. For instance, my jump shot has improved. I have worked real hard
on trying to improve my shot."
Yet, her approach to the game remains the same.
"I am a very humble person," describes Ivey. "I get out there
I am the same as anybody else. Whatever opponent I am up against, I feel
like I always have to prove them wrong. I work hard instead of being an
arrogant player. I am just grateful to God that I am healthy and thank him
everyday for giving me these talents."
Her teammates are thankful as well.