Oct. 28, 2014
After going through a series of warm-up activities on the University of Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion court, Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw gathered her team at the center circle for a few instructions.
Then, she turned and offered a fist bump to the player on her left.
From there, the fist bump went from player to player, around the circle, coming back to McGraw.
And with that symbol of togetherness, the Irish started an open practice Monday that attracted nearly 500 fans.
McGraw's Irish went through a series of passing drills, defensive drills, and scrimmaging to get ready for the 2014-2015 season. Notre Dame hits the Purcell court at 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 5 for an exhibition game against Ferris State. The Irish open the regular season at 6 p.m. ET Nov. 14 against UMass Lowell.
Notre Dame's players delighted fans at the open practice with graceful three-pointers, power moves to the hoop and breath-taking alley oops.
Freshmen Brianna Turner, Mychal Johnson and Kathryn Westbeld made a favorable first impression with their fans. Turner, a 6-foot-3 sensation from Pearland, Texas, swatted away shots, led fast breaks and brought electricity to the event by finishing off alley oops.
Westbeld battled inside, fighting for rebounds and impressing with her defensive intensity. Johnson effectively ran the point, dished out assists, led high-octane fast breaks and swished three-pointers.
Veteran Irish players Jewell Loyd, Taya Reimer, Lindsay Allen, Madison Cable, Hannah Huffman and Michaela Mabrey showed they've learned the lessons of playing in the NCAA Final Four with their intensity and crisp play.
Senior captains Markisha Wright and Whitney Holloway provided leadership. Sophomores Diamond Thompson and Kristina Nelson showed an eagerness to continue their development.
Notre Dame posted a 37-1 record last season, swept to the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships and finished as the national runner-up.
Monday's practice showed that the Irish have an eagerness to make a fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four.
"This team wants to learn," McGraw said.
"When we correct them, they really want to do it right. They're trying really hard to get everything right, and that's probably the biggest thing I notice about this particular class."
McGraw appreciated the turnout by Irish fans to a mid-afternoon Monday practice.
"Our fans are just tremendous," McGraw said. "They're the best fans in the country. We love how they support the girls and how interested they are in the girls and how much they care about them. They want to see them do well. It's fun being out in the community and seeing people out there, talking to them when we're out shopping or at restaurants. We want to play well for them. They do a lot of us, and we want to give it back."
Notre Dame's special relationship with the fans saw the Irish players participate in a number of community activities, including a Habitat for Humanity build.
"We like to get out in the community and do things to help the fans," McGraw said. "We try to be in the community more and be visible, because they do so much for us. It's a way for us to get out and give back a little bit."
One of the biggest roars from the crowd came when Cable drew a charge from one of the male practice players.
"You have to love it when the fans are cheering defensive drills," McGraw laughed.
"We hope we play some defense this year. We want to give them something to cheer about. We really have a very intelligent crowd. They know when we need a stop, and when we need them to stand up and cheer for it. That gives the girls a lot of energy and a lot of motivation."
Notre Dame already has sold out season tickets for home games, but single-game tickets are on sale for all contests but the Connecticut game, which is sold out. Fans can check with the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office beginning Dec. 1 to see if any tickets have been returned for the Connecticut game.
How excited are Irish fans for the upcoming season? It only took 26 minutes to sell out a ticket package that included Connecticut and ACC opponents.
Games at Purcell Pavilion include the Dec. 6 matchup against Connecticut, a Dec. 13 game against Michigan, a Jan. 18 game against Tennessee, a Feb. 16 matchup against Duke and a Feb. 23 game against Louisville.
"We take a lot of pride in making each game here a memorable experience," said Matt Chupp of Notre Dame's marketing department.
"You can go to any Notre Dame women's basketball game, and you can feel that you get the same game atmosphere as any of the others. You don't get cheated when you come to a Notre Dame women's basketball game. We have halftime entertainment for every one of the regular-season games.
"We have great fans. They're the most loyal fans, and they're the most welcoming fans. People who come to a game for the first time are shocked at how much they enjoy it. The crowd is definitely part of the show, because they're into it so much."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent