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    2011-12 Media Day - Head Coach Muffet McGraw

    FIGHTING IRISH
    FIGHTING IRISH

    FIGHTING IRISH

    Oct. 12, 2011

    On an overview of the season...
    "We're in uncharted territory this year. This is the first time we've had a very successful season, and we returned quite a few of our players. In 2001, we had a big senior class that graduated, so I'm interested to see how this team handles it. I loved the way we played and competed last season. We had a chip on our shoulders the entire season from the summer and preseason and then into practice. This year it's a different attitude. We know where we want to go, and there is a lot of intensity, but there is a big target on our backs that we have not had to handle too much in the past."

    On the three freshmen...
    "We have a post player from Iowa, Markisha Wright, who is somebody we're going to need to come along quickly. With the loss of Becca [Bruszewski], our bruiser, we lost our physical presence inside. Markisha brings the physical presence we need. She is really going to need to be strong and physical, and she likes that kind of game. You'll probably see her coming into the lineup a little quicker than the other freshmen. Whitney Holloway, a point guard from Chicago, is fast. She's got a lot to learn with our offense and that is going to take some time to learn for the point guard. Madison Cable, from Pittsburgh, is a wing player, but we've got great guards ahead of her. They are in a great situation, though, where they have to have that pressure of coming in and playing right away. They're going to really be able to learn from Natalie [Novosel], Brittany [Mallory], and Skylar [Diggins]. I think it is a good situation for them to be in."

    On the pressure of the transition from high school to college...
    "This is the first time we've got three freshmen where everybody in our class won a state championship and all three of them were MVP of the game. I think they're coming from situations where they come from winning programs, and they know how to win. That is something we love because they know how to work at a pretty high level. I think for them to come in, it's a completely different game. Most of them watch practice and say I thought I worked hard. Now, this is really hard. Most of them think it's the hardest thing they've ever done because it is a new level, and it's a giant step for them. They're working extremely hard. I'm really pleased with them and their work ethic."

     

     

    On Skylar Diggins' explosive play from the regular season to the tournament last year...
    "She really did make a giant step forward in the tournament. It was amazing to see. I think it really started in the BIG EAST Tournament. She had a great year, did a lot of good things. That was the moment when she discovered what she could be as the point guard of our team. She can score, run the team, and pretty much everything she envisioned as her role coming into Notre Dame. She discovered that she was a lot more aggressive with the ball and attacked more. She played her game. She didn't worry about running the offense as much. She just reacted and played."

    On using losing in the championship game as a chip on the team's shoulder...
    "It definitely still hurts. I think that when we look at the last game, we decided then that we had to get ready for the next year. We've got some unfinished business is the way we're looking at it. It's a different type of chip on our shoulder. For the younger players, you come in as a freshman and make it to the final game, but they don't understand how hard that was for us to get there and what we put into the program for years before that. I think the incoming freshmen definitely don't know what it's going to be. Last year, it was a group all on the same page. We knew where we wanted to go. This year we've got the veterans at the top really pushing things, and the freshmen still wondering what the heck is going on."

    On Skylar Diggins' improvement from last year to this year...
    "I think the summer, with the (World University Games) Gold Medal game, she was able to play a little bit different role, where she didn't score as much. She did a lot more defensively and running the time. Leadership-wise, she has grown tremendously. It was a great experience for her, and they got to see things from other programs that made them feel better about the way we practice. I think they came back with renewed confidence and a greater incentive to play against others they played with this summer."

    On the wear and tear of the World University Games on the players...
    "That's one of my big worries because it's a long season. They come off of a very busy August and didn't have time to rest. We're giving them time off next week though. We practice at 6 AM on Friday, and then they come back Thursday. It's a pretty long break. For Natalie [Novosel], it's the first time she's been home since she got back from China. It's a much needed and well deserved break both mentally and physically."

    On the three returning All-Americans (Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel, and Devereaux Peters) losing their edge from collecting accolades...
    "I'm not worried about that at all. I think they definitely still have the edge, and they're trying to get the rest of the team to get that edge. Right now, they're really intense at practice. We were intense last year too, but this year it's almost obsessive. You better get up on the same page right now, or you're going to get knocked down. They've really raised the intensity at practice. They know what they want, and they know what we're capable of."

    On the impact Devereaux Peters can have this season...
    "Devereaux has to be the most improved player in the country from freshman year to now. She has come light years since her injury, which obviously set her back. This is the first full year she has been healthy and what a difference it has made. She's the difference on our team. She's the player every team has to have. Most teams have more than one of her, so we're fortunate she can block shots, play defense, run the floor, and do so many things. She is just an incredible athlete and a potential WNBA draft pick. She is someone who is huge part of helping us making a giant leap to where we are today."

    On Kayla McBride's potential...
    "Kayla McBride could the most improved player in the BIG EAST this year. She had a tremendous start to her freshman year and is really playing tremendous basketball. It's going to be hard to keep her out of the starting lineup. She's one of the best players at practice. She's got great intensity. She's been scoring the ball incredibly well in so many ways. She could play point for us or really any position besides center. We're really looking to use her versatility in a lot of different ways, so we're expecting very big things from her."

    On losing Becca Bruszewski as a voice on the team...
    "Sometimes leadership is harder to replace than the stats, and when we look at what Becca did for us this past year, she had an unbelievable year in terms of her leadership. She really was a phenomenal leader for us. She did many great things in the locker room, and on the court she was the physical person that wasn't going to let us back down from any challenge. We really miss her voice. Brittany Mallory is well respected because of her knowledge of the game. She is the glue that keeps us together. She is a really positive force for us. We've got great leadership by example from Natalie Novosel and with Devereaux [Peters]. Devereaux is becoming more vocal. When it comes down to it on the court, I think Skylar [Diggins] is going to be the leader. She's going to have the ball in her hands. She will definably have the voice that Becca had. I don't think she's afraid to tell anybody where they need to be, and I know they will listen to her."

    On Kaila Turner's role on the team...
    "She may be the best player on the team coming back in terms of improvement over the summer. She worked extremely hard, and I'm looking to move her to the 2 [position]. She's a great shooter, probably one of the best shooters we have. The three-point line has moved back to the men's line, but I haven't really noticed a difference because she is shooting the ball incredibly well. I'm really pleased with what she's doing, and I hope she'll do a lot of scoring from the three-point line for us this year."

    On the goal of the team this year...
    "I think you look at what we have, and obviously we want to compete for a national championship. That's got to be our goal. We're not going to win the national championship today. I think it's important for us to communicate to the team that each game is important, and that we need to take it one step at a time. We hope to be better in March. Looking at the way we're practicing right now, we need to be better in March."

    On rules changes to the game and how to coach them...
    "Two big changes are on the court. One is the three-point line. Now there is just one because we're shooting from the men's line. The other is an arc under the basket for the charge. This is something we've never had before, men or women. It's going to be really interesting to try and coach it. It's going to be fascinating to see how they officiate it because they've got to look at a lot of different things now. We're really working on it and trying to stay off the line, so we can get a charge. I think it'll help the offense when we drive in and that we'll get a lot more three point plays because you can't stand underneath the basket. I think it'll be good for the offense. We're experimenting with a 10-second backcourt rule in our exhibition games. I think that'll be really good for us because of the press.

    On focusing on having fun during the season...
    "I just really want to make sure the team enjoys the season. I think it was magical for us during our run last year because we enjoyed everything. I want to have that joy and keep that passion alive in them for us. When it gets to be pressure that we have to win, you can't play as well because you're not relaxed. For us, we've got to have that fun and joy of the game. I'm not sure if it's possible for me, but I think it's really important. You want to get into the season and celebrate the victories instead of being relieved that we won and did our job. I can help with that because I am a perfectionist, and I like to play well, so maybe I won't go into the locker room after games and let them celebrate on our own. That is going to be our challenge as coaches because we know we can be better and we have to balance that with having fun."

    On who will replace Becca Bruszewski inside...
    "We expect big things from Natalie Achonwa. She is somebody that is going to come in and give us really good minutes. She could start. She could also be one of the first players in the game who is capable of getting a double figure night. I think she is capable of getting a double-double on any occasion. We look for her to really replace the stats and scoring. As far as leadership, she won't be that force, but defensively, she will be our best post defender at least initially until we see what Markisha [Wright] has to offer."

    On the strengths and areas of concern for the game...
    "We can really score. This is our best three-point shooting team ever. It's going to be interesting to see when we practice. We can make a lot of shots. I think we'll be able to score. Our question mark will again be inside. Can we score on the block? Can we defend on the block? I think we were a really good defensive team last year. We were in the top five nationally in steals and top three in the BIG EAST, so we are going to continue to try to run that transition game because we're fast. We've just got to stay healthy. That is always a worry."

    On how much of a bench she hopes to utilize...
    "I want to play eight at least. I think eight is a perfect number. I hope this team forces me to play nine because they're playing so well."

    On controlling Skylar Diggins' rock star status and media frenzy...
    "It's out of control. (laughter) It is something that we're always aware of. We try to talk with her about that. So far it has not been a problem. She handled it well last year, but it was late in the season. It can really be a drain on a person of that age because they're so young. She's probably going to be the face of women's basketball on ESPN. You're going to see her everywhere, and everyone is going to want a piece of her. She's constantly being called for interviews and appearances, so we're trying to keep that to a bare minimum by making her available once a week and not doing too many things outside of basketball. She is a great student, so we really want her to focus on basketball and academics before the other things. We don't have any particular strategy right now in terms of limiting her Facebook and Twitter, but if it gets to be a problem we'll definitely step in. We like to let them handle it and be adults. As long as you're handling it, I'm fine with it."

    On the BIG EAST realignment talk and shifting the focus to basketball...
    "At this time of the year, you just want to be in the gym with you team and that is all we want to focus on. We have BIG EAST Media Day next week, so we'll see where we're picked to finish, but that is probably the last time we'll talk about the league and where we are. It's definitely always in the back of your mind about what is going to happen, but right now we know we have a great conference and a great schedule."

    On dealing with a target on their backs and being named a preseason No. 1...
    "I've accepted it, but I don't read anything, so I don't know where everyone has us ranked. I'm sure that'll be announced at some point where we are in the USA Today poll, but I don't put a lot of stock in it. If I had to rank our team right now, I don't think I'd put us in the top 25. We've got a long way to go, and I think (the players) know that. We're trying to keep what the media prints far away from me."

    On mentioning the goal of winning a national championship at practice...
    "Not at all. We're on a very present-moment type of agenda right now where we focus on each day and getting better each day to prepare for the next day. That's how we looked at it last year, and it was pretty successful. I think it is a little easier for them to look at it that way. I think they're going to want to look ahead at times, but with our schedule, every game coming up is going to be a big game. We've sold out of season tickets. We've got a limited number of tickets for the Tennessee and UConn games and a limited number for some others games. We're almost sold out on most of our games. So we're excited, and we know the fans our excited about the season."

    On previously coaching players who have become the face of the game...
    "When we had Ruth Riley, she certainly was a well-rounded player and someone who was a great role model. The media at that time, though, was so much less. There was no Twitter or Facebook. She was somebody that everyone looked at though. In 2001, we were the underdogs to win the title, so I don't think we really have anyone to compare. You would have to compare Skylar [Diggins] to one of our quarterbacks, but she's even outshone them in terms of her following, so we're really in unchartered territory right now."

    On the improvement Muffet McGraw has made in the program over the last 25 years...
    "It's really amazing. I remember going to a preseason chamber luncheon over 20 years ago and telling the crowd that my goal was to sell out the Joyce Center. I think there were a lot of chuckles, smiles, and wishes of good luck. To come to that moment where we are able to sell out the Joyce and almost on a regular basis, I think the community has really embraced our team. Recruiting Midwest and local players has helped, but it has been a lot of work and fun that you can't really even think of it as work. We've put a lot into it, though, and we're really happy with what we've got."

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