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A Hall of Famer's Journey

Sept. 30, 2017

“As a coach, I spend most of my time preparing for the next game, so standing up here tonight has put me in the unusual position of looking back…but what a ride it’s been.”

With those words, Karen and Kevin Keyes Head Women’s Basketball Head Coach Muffet McGraw took in the moment – the packed house at Symphony Hall, the basketball legends and Hall of Famers hanging onto every word, the teary eyes of friends and family in attendance, and at the end of it all, what it meant to be named a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.

Coach McGraw’s path to that Hall of Fame night in Springfield, Massachusetts began much earlier than her first year at Notre Dame back in 1987. No, one would have to look further, to a young girl growing up in the Philadelphia metro area, who took every opportunity to play a game which would ultimately define her.

“In the seventh grade the priest came in and said he was starting a girls team and asked who wanted to be on it and of course I was the first to raise my hand,” McGraw said. “Back then you had to wear a skirt and play six-on-six so it wasn’t exactly the basketball I had been playing with the boys. I just loved the game though and every opportunity to play it.

“I played all summer long and then through high school, always with the guys. There were no scholarships and recruiting back then for women so I chose Saint Joseph’s for other reasons, but they did have a team – first year in fact. We had a lot of success and I played for some really good coaches.”

A four-year starter at Saint Joseph’s University, she captained the 1976-77 Hawk team that finished 23-5 and was ranked third nationally. Then in 1977, McGraw contemplated what next steps to take with her newly earned bachelor’s degree in sociology, yet her decision always came back to one thing.

“Upon graduating, I couldn’t imagine life without basketball,” McGraw explained. “An opportunity came up in coaching at Archbishop Carroll High School and I decided to give it a go.”

McGraw and coaching was a beautiful partnership from the start as she guided her Archbishop teams to a combined 50-3 record in two seasons. Next, after a one-year stint in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, McGraw returned to her alma mater for two years as an assistant coach under Jim Foster, before returning to a head coaching role at Lehigh University in 1982.

Five years later, McGraw made the decision to uproot her life once more, this time to the town of South Bend, Indiana, and the rest, they say, is history. Flash forward to 765 Notre Dame wins later (853 overall in her career) and Coach McGraw is now immortalized along with the game’s greats. The 32nd woman to be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The festivities started on Thursday, Sept. 7, with the orange jacket presentation. As Coach McGraw slipped on a color she hadn’t worn too often in her career, she looked up and saw all the portraits of the Hall of Famers that came before her, including her own head shot right next to James Naismith himself.

Yet it wasn’t until Friday night’s enshrinement ceremony that the moment began to finally sink in.

“Putting on the Hall of Fame jacket was a fun afternoon but walking the red carpet on Friday, and seeing all the former Hall of Famers was when it really hit me,” McGraw stated. “Just standing up on that stage, looking out at all the people that came to support me. That was the moment it became special.”

When the moment for her speech came and her name was announced, a visible exhale was shown – perhaps half nerves, half culmination of over 40 years of hard work wrapped up into one night.

Coach McGraw began her speech and began to really take in the faces of the crowd, whether it was fellow 2017 Hall of Fame Class members Bill Self and George McGinnis – whom she truly bonded with over the weekend – or Larry Bird with whom she snuck a quick photo-op earlier in the night.

Or whether it was the more familiar faces: her sisters Patti and Peg, her fellow coaching staff members Niele Ivey, Beth Cunningham and Carol Owens, her old St. Joseph’s teammates or a slew of her former players like 2001 national champion Ruth Riley.

“That’s what makes it special – the people that you get to share it with,” McGraw explained. “Anytime you have a big moment in your life, it’s the people celebrating the moment with you that makes it special. It’s all the people that went into it and hearing from them and knowing that they were a big part of my journey and hopefully had an influence on their life.

“It was definitely an emotional moment. I was trying to thank people for 40 years worth of coaching and condense it into five minutes. I just tried to name people who have been big contributors in getting me there.”

Yet the faces that resonated the most undoubtedly belonged to the ones that have always been by her side since day one – her husband Matt and son Murphy. The two faces which made it difficult for Coach McGraw to not get too emotional during her speech.

“It meant so much for me to have them there,” McGraw said. “Matt has been with me every step of the way – we got married when I started coaching. With Murphy, growing up with me having to travel and recruit all the time, it was hard to find that time to go to all his events. To have them there for that moment was really emotional. Wasn’t sure if I was going to get through my speech. When I sat down I was like ‘whew.’ Can’t even put into words to have people in your life like that.”

With her final tearful thank you directed to Matt and Murphy, Coach McGraw exited the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation. The festivities later ended with McGraw collecting her Hall of Fame ring on Saturday before capping the weekend with one last family hug.

And what a ride it’s been indeed – seven Final Fours, five national title games and the memorable 2001 national championship in St. Louis. Yet the accolades are far from being accomplished and Coach McGraw’s ‘ride’ is far near completion.

Now the next chapter awaits – Muffet’s 31st season at the helm of the program will officially get underway at the Nov. 11 home opener versus Mount St. Mary’s in front of what she dubbed ‘the best fans and band in the land.’

“It’s the people that make the place and that’s why Notre Dame has always felt like home to me,” McGraw concluded.