July 20, 2007
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of my job is keeping statistics. Call me what you will (stat geek is my personal favorite title), but I really enjoy tracking a team's stats and then digging inside those numbers to learn more about a team's successes and failures. Along those lines, a major source of debate among number crunchers is which stat is the most important. The obvious answer might be points, but look closer and you'll see that assists are a whole lot more vital to a team's performance. If you don't have a solid passing club, one that's willing to share the basketball, make the extra pass and find the open player, you're not going to be very successful.
With that in mind, let's do our own stat digging as we open up the trivia book for this edition of the BasketBlog. Who holds the Notre Dame record for assists in a single game? And for extra credit, who was the opponent that day? Here are a couple of hints -- we just celebrated the 20th anniversary of this accomplishment this past season; and the opponent is a very familiar one to longtime Irish women's basketball fans. Percolate on that and we'll have the answer before signing off.
One player who may put her fingerprints in the assist category of the Irish record books down the road is rising sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner. As most of you know by now, Lech was named to the USA U19 World Championship Team that is getting set to play in Slovakia starting next week. The team left the country on Tuesday and is playing in a three-game exhibition series in the Canary Islands that started yesterday (the U.S. beat Australia, 64-62 -- see the recap here) and continues through the weekend. The Canary Islands are located off the northwest coast of Africa and are a Spanish territory, which is ironic since Lech and the Notre Dame squad were slated to visit Spain on its European exhibition tour back in May. As it turned out, we put off that tour to allow Lech, Ashley Barlow and Charel Allen to try out for USA Basketball teams in mid-May in Colorado Springs. Now it turns out Lech got to visit Spain (sort of) on her own. Not bad for someone who had only left the country once before in her life, and that was a trip to the Bahamas.
Actually, I think the one of the best assists Lech has made during her year-plus with the Irish about 10 days ago, before she even left for the USA Basketball Training Camp in Washington, D.C. She and her senior teammates, Tulyah Gaines and Melissa D'Amico, headed down to Memorial Hospital in South Bend and spent the morning visiting with several pediatric cancer patients. It was a very moving experience to see these players, who have been blessed with so much health and talent, doing everything they can to lift the spirits of other young people who have a much more difficult fight than anything the Irish go through on the basketball court. A video crew from our web site, und.com, was on hand for these visits, and you can see a special feature on Notre Dame's trip to Memorial Hospital by clicking here.
Giving back to the community continues to be an important cornerstone of the Irish women's basketball program, especially during the summer months. Last week, Tulyah and Ashley took part in some youth basketball clinics over in the Penn-Harris-Madison school district in Mishawaka. A day earlier, five Notre Dame players, including all three of our freshmen (Becca Bruszewski, Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters), ventured down to Nappanee to help celebrate the birthday of one of our younger and most loyal fans, Cassie Yoder. And, even though she's in the middle of the busy recruiting season, Coach McGraw has been involved as well, joining Charel Allen
for an afternoon at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. There's even more we will be doing throughout the rest of the summer and on into the fall, so keep an eye out for the Irish in your community. You can also make a request to have Notre Dame women's basketball players at your event by contacting our coordinator of basketball operations Stephanie Menio
at (574) 631-3589.
We mentioned it in passing, but our three freshmen are all on campus, going through summer classes and workouts, while also playing pickup games with the rest of the returning team members. Although I've only had a chance to know them for a little while, I can safely say that these three are going to add another spark to our program for years to come. Not only does each of them fill a specific need that we may have been missing on the court last year, but they've also blended seamlessly with the veterans from day one. The chemistry level on this team is as good as it's been at any time since I've been on campus, and I think our depth is going be pretty impressive as well. It wouldn't surprise me if we're still flying below the radar with some of the national experts heading into next season, but not sure how much longer that's going to last. Coach McGraw and our new assistant coach, Niele Ivey, said the same thing in a recent interview with und.com, a video you can see by clicking here.
It's around this time of year that we start getting questions about when the schedule is going to get released. While we've got everything in our non-conference schedule lined up at this point, we still haven't gotten times and dates for our conference schedule, which is determined based upon the BIG EAST men's schedules and how those mesh at the arenas that are shared with NBA teams. All together, it's a fairly complex process to also involves getting all of the game contracts signed, and then our schedule must be approved by the University's Faculty Board on Athletics. Don't forget these are students first and athletes second, and the University does everything possible to ensure a minimum of missed classes, whether it be placing limitations on extended travel with late-afternoon departures, or making virtually every road trip via chartered airplane. So to make a long story short, we're probably looking at having a finalized schedule ready for release sometime in mid- to late September. Couple of things we can say -- while a certain national non-conference rivalry may be going on hiatus, another one we're all too familiar with continues on the Irish schedule again this year. And, what about the two combatants in that aforementioned national rivalry? Well, they may not play each other, but I know one team that's going to play host to both of them this season.
Well, that's about it for this wave of the BasketBlog. If the Internet gods are willing, we're hoping to get some reports from Melissa Lechlitner during her overseas adventure with Team USA during the next couple of weeks. If that's the case, we'll post them right here in the Blog. For now, enjoy your summer and don't forget -- it's only 16 weeks until Notre Dame tips off the 2007-08 season (Nov. 9 vs. Miami-Ohio in the Preseason WNIT opener at the Joyce Center). Until then ... GO IRISH!!
(Trivia answer: Mary Gavin dished out a school and arena-record 17 assists on Jan. 31, 1987 in a 95-60 win over Marquette at the Joyce Center.)