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Notre Dame Basketball

McGraw's sell-out show defined Notre Dame

April 22, 2020
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She wanted the sellout-crowd.

One.

A symbol of interest in both her program and sport, women’s basketball.

Muffet McGraw got her first one, the first one in the history of Irish annals now resplendent with achievements from McGraw’s Hall of Fame career, January 15, 2001. The Irish toppled then-No. 1 Connecticut, 92-76.

“Well, you know, my goal when I came in was to have a sell-out crowd; that was all I wanted,” McGraw said in a Zoom video conference Wednesday afternoon. “I wanted to have one time where we got the arena full. And of course, I wanted to immediately get into the Top 25. I never really thought about winning national championships at that point; I think I just wanted to get the program on track.

“And I will never forget 2001, January 15, when I walked into the arena and one of the ushers said, ‘Did you hear? It’s a sell-out.’ And I know in my heart the emotion I felt that day and the gratitude for our fans.”

Notre Dame’s women’s basketball sold out yet another game that same season, Georgetown, on ‘Senior Night.’

It marked the second of what would become 57 home sell-out crowds in McGraw’s 33 seasons atop the program. Forty-seven of those 57 games saw the home team win, 17 victories in that span coming against ranked opponents and a sliver of McGraw’s 848 wins at the helm.

Yet the next capacity crowd inside Purcell Pavilion will not come directly under McGraw’s withering stare.

The 2017 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee on Wednesday announced her retirement from coaching at Notre Dame.

“Ask somebody who their Mount Rushmore is of anything,” ND athletics director Jack Swarbrick said via Zoom. “Best athletes, best whatever.

“You can’t have a discussion about the Mount Rushmore of Notre Dame coaches and not have Muffet McGraw on that list. She has contributed more to this school, this university and its athletes, than anyone. We will miss her tremendously, we will miss the influence she’s had on all of us but we also honor this as a time to celebrate Coach McGraw.”

In 1,100 career games atop the Irish program, two of McGraw’s victories delivered the school’s only NCAA Tournament championships in men’s or women’s basketball; in her final season, an uncharacteristic struggle following the departure of five seniors who paced back-to-back Final Fours in 2018-19, including the ’18 crown, McGraw still nudged the Irish beyond 1,000 all-time wins in program history.

She considered this move a year ago, and, if not for the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, would have announced her retirement nearer the end of her 33rd season and surrounded by her women’s basketball family.

“Although I have a long-term contract, every year since the championship year, I have looked and said, ‘Let’s take one more year. Let’s take it one year at a time,’” McGraw said. “And looking ahead, I was excited about the next season.

“This year at the end of the season, I looked at it as I did last year, with five players going off to the (WNBA) Draft, I think a lot of people looked at it and thought, ‘Maybe this is the year she should retire.’ But when I looked ahead to what we had coming back, I knew that it was going to be a challenging season and I thought, ‘Where’s the honor in that if I leave now?’ And I really wasn’t ready, anyway. So I put in for one more year. Now looking ahead to know we have a great recruiting class coming in, we’re ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason poll and I think the program is right back where it should be and poised to make another run to the Final Four. I feel like I’m leaving the program in a good place and also a chance for me to do something else.”

Swarbrick emphasized that Notre Dame will keep McGraw around the university in a variety of roles, but the school’s 12th-year athletics director specifically outlined three roles he’s envisioned.

“The first is education; this is a great teacher and we want to create platforms for her to teach,” Swarbrick said. “We have some specific ideas about programs that are being developed at the university where I think she could play a very important role.

“The second is, we want her to help our coaches. What better person to help, especially nurture younger coaches in their development, than Muffet. And third, we’d like her to continue to represent the university publicly and help talk about this place and what it’s meant to her.”

It might be easiest to sum up what McGraw has meant to the Irish: Quite simply, she is Notre Dame women’s basketball.

 
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