Best team chemistry we've ever had
Updated: Monday November 13, 2000 5:35 PM
In 13 seasons as the head coach at Notre Dame, Muffet McGraw has led the Fighting Irish to seven NCAA tournament appearances. In 1997, Notre Dame went to its first Final Four, and in 1999-2000, recorded the best winning percentage in school history. The Fighting Irish are ranked No. 6 in the latest AP Poll. Check out McGraw's diary every week on CNNSI.com.
November 12, 2000
We open the season with the highest preseason ranking in the history of our program at sixth, with five of our top seven players returning and with high expectations for a great season. We came into practice in great shape and the team was highly motivated in all of our preseason conditioning. With our goals set high and a tough schedule looming ahead, we were anxious for practice to begin.
I was a little disappointed about the way practice began. With a veteran team it seemed like we should have been further along than we were. However, we put in a new offense, and I'm sure that's why we were a little bit behind where I thought we should have been. The offense is different than what we have run in the past, and it took us a longer time to grasp than I was expecting.
I was kind of worried early in the preseason. We weren't playing that well but I think it was because we were uncomfortable with the changes rather than that we didn't have the talent. We probably went two weeks where we really didn't look very good in a lot of ways. Niele Ivey was playing well right from the start. She and Kelley Siemon looked really good. The rest of the team was a little slow coming along. Ruth Riley came along just before the exhibition game and Alicia Ratay and Erika Haney are playing well now. Jeneka Joyce is starting to come along. Probably the big question mark right now in my mind is the bench. How many people are we going to have ready for the first game?
When Ruth started playing well (her usual All-America performances) that made us look good. When she is playing well, we are so tough to beat. She is such a dominating presence in there we need to make sure we are getting her the ball. We look like a pretty good team but with double zero in there, we are a great team.
It was great to play that first exhibition game (a 91-56 Irish win over the Premier All-Stars on Sun., Nov. 5). We really needed to go out and play somebody and see where we were. We did some good things defensively. We are a little ahead defensively of where we were last year and that's a huge plus because one of our goals is to be a better defensive team. Offensively, we have a lot of people who can score. We scored 91 points and the offense didn't even look that good. I don't think we executed very well. It was very easy for us to score points. We had great balance with six people in double figures. That's the kind of balance we need to have to be successful this year.
We had signing day on Wed., Nov. 8. We signed our best class since we signed Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither. It's definitely the biggest class we've signed but it also has a lot of versatility and will fit in really well with our offense. We'll be much be more skilled next year than we've ever been. We don't have a lot of size but we have a lot people who are fundamentally sound, a lot more people who can play a lot of different spots. We are going in a whole different direction that we've been in, an open five-player motion type of game where everyone can play guard/forward. That's what we are headed toward, and I think that's a good thing.
So heading into the season, this is probably the best team chemistry we've ever had. Everyone on the team gets along with each other. It's also a group that we as coaches can't wait to get in the gym every day for practice. This team is the most fun we've ever been around. They work hard, enjoy being out there and enjoy being with each other. They have fun off the court together. There haven't been any off the court issues or distractions. There are no attitudes on the team. It's a real team. It's a big, big plus for the coaches.
They can make fun of themselves and lighten the moment. Niele is in charge of making fun of people, and Ericka helps out quite a bit. You need to be able to laugh at yourself to survive those two! Everyone has a sense of humor. They've learned when is the right time to be funny and when to be serious and are able to balance both. Last year, we weren't quite as mature. We'd get silly and then couldn't get back to serious. Now they can be silly for a minute and then get their game faces on right away. That is good leadership and should make us an exciting team to follow this season.
-- Coach McGraw