Monday, May 10, 2010

From Player to Coach—Niele Ivey’s Move to the Other Side of the Court

As the younger sister of four basketball-playing brothers and a student at St. Louis’ Immaculata and Cor Jesu, Niele Ivey Notre Dame Class of 2001 seemed fated to play basketball at a Catholic school. But it was her devotion to not only her sport, but to also to her values that allowed her to become a basketball star at the University of Notre Dame. Nearly ten years after stepping off of the court as a student-athlete, Niele reflects on her three seasons as an Assistant Coach at Notre Dame and how it was simply her destiny to be a Domer on both sides of the court.

The St. Louis native started playing basketball in the fourth grade mostly because she wanted to be like her four older brothers. The self-described tomboy remembers following her brothers everywhere.

“I would tag along with them to the park, at school, and especially the basketball court; which inevitably led to my deep love for the sport.”

After spending her entire academic career in Catholic schools — St. Louis’ Immaculata School and Cor Jesu Academy — Notre Dame seemed to be the natural next step for this Catholic school girl. But it was during a recruiting trip the weekend of the 1995 USC game that Niele knew for certain that Notre Dame was the one. She was impressed with the robust traditions of the school, its strong Catholic values and as to be expected, the excitement of a home football weekend.

“I was absolutely blown away by everything that Notre Dame had to offer—the Catholic character, the traditions, the most beautiful campus and of course the football,” she recalls. “I knew I had found my school at Friday night’s pep rally!”

What solidified Niele’s decision to come to Notre Dame was meeting the Head Coach of the Women’s’ Basketball Team, the legendary Muffet McGraw.

“Coach McGraw presented Notre Dame’s Women Basketball team as a family oriented program that worked tirelessly to uphold the standards and traditions of the University. And that aligned perfectly with my family values.”

Niele spent the next five years as a point guard for the Fighting Irish, learning invaluable lessons from Coach McGraw—a former point guard herself. In the spring of 2001, her dreams of playing professionally came true when the Indiana Fever chose her in the second round of the WNBA draft. After a successful career with in Indianapolis, Niele went on to play half seasons with the Phoenix Mercury, as well as the Detroit Shock. She even had the opportunity to play for a professional club team in Zaragoza, Spain.

Faced with the third knee surgery of her career, Niele contemplated retirement after playing professionally for five years. Well, true to form, that Notre Dame fate stepped in. Niele was watching ESPN one night, when she saw the announcement that Coquese Washington (then Notre Dame Assistant Coach) had accepted the Head Coach position at Penn State.

“As the ticker flashed across my screen, Coach McGraw called to offer me the Assistant Coach position. To have her call me that quickly and to know that I was the person who she wanted was so amazing. It made me realize that choosing Notre Dame all those years ago really was the perfect decision.”

While Niele has enjoyed every opportunity that coaching has allowed her for the past three years, a few moments are particularly special to her.

“Recruiting Skylar Diggins from South Bend’s Washington High School is hands down my biggest professional accomplishment. The assignment was proposed to me during my first interview, so to be able to say that I succeeded at that task from start to finish is amazing. I watched her play all over the country, and even travelled to Argentina to show our interest. So when Skylar committed to Notre Dame in November 2009 that was such an incredible day for me!”

Niele also counts the Lady Irish’s two Sweet Sixteen appearances (2007, 2010) as major moments in her coaching career.

However, the aspect of this new phase of her basketball career that truly stands out is the opportunity for Niele to give back to the program that shaped the person she is today.

“I take my job as a mentor and role model very seriously. I work hard to ensure that every workout and any advice I give is meaningful. I want them to have the same experience I had nine years ago to develop invaluable skills on the court, but also in the classroom. I am just so blessed to come back to the place where I became the woman, the student, the athlete that I am today.”


  1. Great story Niele! It's good to hear the fullness of your Notre Dame story! Much success to you and the Lady Irish!

    --Tanya Walker '97

  2. Hey how you doing I hope you win tonight I have just 1 question for you Are you married If not my name is toby white I am 35 and I hope you don't think I'm a pervert or a stalker I think the very sexy and I would like to get to know you so if you are single I would like to talk my email address is I hope to hear from you soon

  3. I'm a school teacher in Dallas and I would like to know if you're marrie? I am 32 years and I think you are stunning. When i'm watching the game, i'm like put the show the bench cameramen. I love a woman that can dress and you can. I can be reached

  4. I love your blue dress!!!!!!

  5. at least im not the only one that looked your info

    best of luck to you and your dreams ,,,,,,,,

  6. lol, that blue dress is hitting! Im watching on tape delay

  7. OMG.....i thought i was the only one who was mesmerized by that blue dress!!!!This is so crazy

  8. look you must be a Zeta Phi Beta with that blue dress

  9. Now I know who the Lady in the red dress on ND bench is!!during the big East tourney of 2013,she wore a red dress that distracted of LLC but two points of the game...I'm still not sure who the opponent didn't matter if it was a made free throw or a nice pass assist by Skylar, the camera man went straight to Niele IN THAT RED DRESS!!Niele!!your a beautiful Nubian Queen,.I wish you continued success, and keep molding these ladies to be as you have obviously become