June 18, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When it comes to Notre Dame athletics, there are a handful of individuals that are almost instantly recognizable by a single name -- Rockne, Leahy, Digger, Muffet ... and Ruth.
On Wednesday, legendary Notre Dame women's basketball player and 2010 Notre Dame Ring of Honor inductee Ruth Riley ('01) closed out the latest chapter in her remarkable storybook career when she announced her retirement from the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) following 13 professional seasons. Riley will continue to be affiliated with the league as an ambassador for the NBA/WNBA Cares community service program, and she also will return to Notre Dame this fall, enrolling in the Executive MBA program through the University's top-ranked Mendoza College of Business.
Coming as little surprise to anyone who has followed her career, Riley stepped away from the game she loved with grace, class and humility, bidding farewell to her fans and supporters in an eloquent blog entry posted on the official WNBA web site, wnba.com.
"Ruth has such a generous and caring spirit and she continues to be an amazing role model and mentor for young women everywhere, particularly within our Notre Dame women's basketball program," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "I consider it a blessing and a true joy to have had the chance to coach her. While she may no longer be playing, I have no doubt that the best is still yet to come for her and I'm excited to follow her and support her in every way possible as she begins this next stage in her life."
Riley came from small town Indiana, a true Hoosier who grew up in a tiny farmhouse on the edge of equally miniscule Macy, Ind. (population 209). After a superb, but yet largely overlooked prep career at North Miami High School, Riley signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Notre Dame and play basketball for McGraw beginning in the fall of 1997.
Four years later, Riley walked off the court at the Saavis (now Scottrade) Center in St. Louis as an NCAA national champion, earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the 2001 NCAA Women's Final Four after leading Notre Dame to its first national championship with a 68-66 win over in-state rival Purdue (making the two decisive free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining). Riley also was the 2001 consensus National Player of the Year and departed as the only Fighting Irish player to ever amass 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career.
Off the court, Riley was a standout in the classroom, compiling a 3.643 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) while earning Academic All-America First Team honors in 2000 and 2001, then adding the distinction in 2001 as the Academic All-America Team Member and Academic All-American of the Year, outpacing several other high-profile athletes for the latter award, including future NFL quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees, and two-time NBA champion Shane Battier. Riley went on to earn her bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology in 2001, and was enshrined in the Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 2012.
Riley went on to enjoy further success in the WNBA, beginning with the Miami Sol, who selected the three-time Fighting Irish All-American with the No. 5 overall pick in the first round of the 2001 WNBA Draft. She spent two seasons on South Beach before that franchise folded, and Riley then was the top choice in the 2003 WNBA Expansion Draft by the Detroit Shock (who have since moved to Tulsa, Okla.).
Riley spent four seasons in the Motor City, helping the Shock to a pair of WNBA title (2003, 2006) as the team's starting center. Riley also was named the MVP of the 2003 WNBA Finals after scoring a career-high 27 points in the deciding third game victory over the Los Angeles Sparks, making Riley one of only three players ever to be a Finals MVP at the college and professional levels (along with Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore).
In 2004, Riley was a late addition to the USA Basketball Senior National Team and was part of the American side that struck gold at the Athens Olympics. The triumph made Riley one of (now) just nine players in women's basketball history with an NCAA title, WNBA title and Olympic gold medal to their credit, joining an elite list that includes Taurasi, Moore, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Sheryl Swoopes and Kara Wolters.
A year later, Riley was voted as the starting center for the 2005 WNBA Eastern Conference All-Star Team, marking her second consecutive appearance in the league's showcase midseason classic -- in 2004, she suited up for Team USA in "The Game At Radio City", an exhibition between the U.S. Olympic Team and a squad of WNBA All-Stars prior to the Athens Games.
In 2007, Riley was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars (now known as simply the San Antonio Stars), playing her next five pro seasons in the shadow of the Alamo and helping the franchise to the 2008 WNBA Finals.
In 2012, Riley signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Sky, playing one season there before completing her career in 2013 with the Atlanta Dream as part of that franchise's third WNBA Finals appearance.
Riley has been closely involved in the WNBA's service efforts throughout her career, while also making numerous trips to Africa as part of her work with the United Nations Foundation's "Nothing But Nets", a charity organization that helps save lives globally through the strategic prevention of malaria. She also has worked tirelessly with Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit organization focused on ending childhood hunger in America, and in 2009, she was appointed to a term on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Riley has twice been honored for her service and sportsmanship, first with the 2010 Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award, and then with the 2011 Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award. She also has generously given her time as a vital contributor with the WNBA Players Association (WNBPA), serving as that group's first vice president since 2005 and recently helping to craft a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the WNBA that extends through the 2021 season.
In addition to her continuing charity work and post-graduate studies at Notre Dame, Riley is expected to join veteran Fighting Irish radio broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call of several Notre Dame games during the 2014-15 season. The pair have teamed up behind the microphone for numerous broadcasts of late, including a 69-53 Fighting Irish win over Duke in the 2014 ACC Tournament title game back in March at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.
For more information on Riley's future plans for life after basketball, visit her web site at ruthriley.com.
McGRAW NEVER STOPS TEACHING
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw always has had a thirst for knowledge. It's well-known that the Hall of Fame mentor never rests on her laurels, as she and her staff have made numerous trips in recent years to observe other successful coaches and programs, including Hall of Fame coach Tex Winter (an assistant on Phil Jackson's staff with the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls from 1985-98, among many other stops), Michigan State's Tom Izzo and former Northwestern coach Bill Carmody.
McGraw also is intent on passing along the knowledge she has learned to the younger head coaches in the game, some of whom served as assistant coaches on McGraw's staff at Notre Dame in recent years, including Bill Fennelly (Iowa State), Kevin McGuff (Ohio State), Jonathan Tsipis (George Washington) and Coquese Washington (Penn State).
In addition, McGraw has become part of the Center for Coaching Excellence, a program now in its fourth year and is a partnership of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and Columbia University. Led by program facilitators Dr. M. Dianne Murphy (Columbia's director of athletics) and Dr. Cathie T. Siders, and a world-class faculty that includes (among many others) McGraw, legendary former Southwest Conference coaches Jody Conradt (Texas) and Marsha Sharp (Texas Tech), and current BIG EAST Conference commissioner/former WNBA president Val Ackerman, the Center for Coaching Excellence provides an unparalleled, exclusive learning experience. Utilizing collaborative and interactive learning sessions along with lectures and panel discussions featuring experts in college athletics, the Center for Coaching Excellence gives women's college basketball coaches valuable networking opportunities with their peers and top industry leaders.
"I was honored and thrilled to be a part of the faculty for this year's Center for Coaching Excellence," McGraw said. "I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with several of my coaching colleagues, exchange ideas and help collaborate to try and continue growing this game we are all so passionate about and care so deeply for."
"I am so proud of the faculty we assembled for the Center for Coaching Excellence," Murphy said. "We were very fortunate that they were able to take time out of their busy schedules to be with us. Our faculty is first class."
This year's attendees took part in a three-day event that concluded June 11 and featured a remarkable cross-section of coaches, including veterans such as longtime Villanova skipper Harry Perretta and noted Southern Mississippi coach Joye McNelis, and several rising stars such as Oregon State's Scott Rueck and two of McGraw's ACC's compatriots in Katie Meier (Miami) and Audra Smith (Clemson).
"The Center for Coaching Excellence has been not only a career, but a life-impacting experience for me," Meier said. "Head coaches are rarely given the opportunity to examine and explore their personalities with their vulnerabilities and strengths. It's such a humbling experience that the very best minds and best people of character in our profession took the time to come here to present this program to promote the healthy growth of our game and to help make us better leaders. I think that the support and the mentoring of the Center for Coaching Excellence is the very reason that women's college basketball is the healthiest forum for leadership and growth in intercollegiate athletics."
DIGGINS NAMED WNBA WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
While this week marked the retirement of Notre Dame's first true WNBA superstar, another could be in the making down in Tulsa, as second-year pro (and former four-time Fighting Irish All-American) Skylar Diggins continues her exceptional growth as the starting point guard for the Tulsa Shock.
Diggins took another step in that development on Monday when she was chosen as the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the first time in her career. The South Bend native led all Western Conference players in scoring last week (23.0 ppg.) while ranking seventh in assists (4.3 apg.) and three-point percentage (.444) and helping Tulsa extend its current winning streak to four games, its longest since moving to Oklahoma prior to the 2010 season.
Diggins opened the week with 21 points and seven assists in a 72-57 win over the New York Liberty. She then dropped in a game-high 22 points (including the game-winning basket with 1.9 seconds left) and added four assists in a 69-67 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. Diggins capped the week by scoring a career-high (and game-best) 26 points in an 85-79 win over the Seattle Storm.
For the season, Diggins ranks fourth in the WNBA in scoring (19.2 ppg.) and assists (5.7 apg.), with both totals far exceeding her production as a rookie in 2013 (8.5 ppg., 3.8 apg.). What's more, Diggins has helped Tulsa move into fourth place in the Western Conference standings with a 4-5 record as the Shock begin a stretch of four games in six days beginning Thursday night in Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET on Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles and online at WNBA LiveAccess).
Following a stop in Phoenix on Friday (10 p.m. ET on WNBA LiveAccess), Diggins and the Shock will come to the Midwest for their only visits this season to Chicago and Indiana, the two closest WNBA franchises to South Bend. Tulsa will face the Chicago Sky at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., on Sunday (1 p.m. ET on ESPN2) and then travel to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to meet the Indiana Fever on June 25 (7 p.m. ET on WNBA LiveAccess). Tickets for both local games featuring Diggins and the Shock are on sale through the teams' respective arena box offices and can be purchased at the door on game day.
FIGHTING IRISH IN THE WNBA
While Diggins has Tulsa on the rise in the WNBA's Western Conference, the top dog in that sector remains the league's reigning champion, the Minnesota Lynx (9-3), whose roster includes former Fighting Irish All-America forward Devereaux Peters ('11). The Chicago native has been slowly working her way back into the team's regular rotation following preseason knee surgery, but is coming off a solid night (eight points, six rebounds) on Tuesday in Minnesota's 94-77 win at Los Angeles. The Lynx are back in action at 10 p.m. (ET) Wednesday at Phoenix (watch on WNBA LiveAccess).
Meanwhile, another Notre Dame All-American, guard Kayla McBride ('14), remains a key contributor as a starting wing for the San Antonio Stars (5-6), who are in third place in the Western Conference, just percentage points ahead of Diggins and Tulsa. McBride is second among all WNBA rookies in scoring this season (11.8 ppg.) and third in three-point percentage (.404), and she's coming off a 20-point night against Los Angeles on June 14, a performance that saw the Erie, Pa., resident, go a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range (part of a 6-for-8 outing overall). McBride and San Antonio next play at 10 p.m. (ET) Thursday, visiting the Seattle Storm (watch live on the LiveWell Network (which includes digital channel 28.2 in South Bend), as well as WNBA LiveAccess).
FOLLOWING THE FIGHTING IRISH
For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director