Sunday is sure to be an emotional day at Purcell Pavilion when Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw leads the Fighting Irish against her alma mater, Saint Joseph's (Pa.) in a 1 p.m. (ET) holiday matinee.

IRISH EXTRA: The McGraw-Saint Joseph's Connection

Dec. 20, 2014

When University of Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw suited up for the Saint Joseph’s University Hawks from the 1973-74 season through the 1976-77 season, players drove themselves to the road games.

Players provided their own practice clothes and bought their own basketball shoes.

Practice happened when the men were finished with the court.

And she loved every minute of it.

“There were definitely some gender-equity issues, but we were just so happy to play,” McGraw said. “We didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about inequality. We didn’t have anything and we didn’t ask for anything. We didn’t complain. We just wanted to play basketball. We wanted to be successful, and we were so competitive. All of us were very competitive.

“Playing at Saint Joe’s gave me a pure love for the game that I still have,” McGraw said.

On Sunday, emotions will cascade down on McGraw when the Saint Joseph’s University women’s basketball team runs out onto the Purcell Pavilion court to play against McGraw’s Fighting Irish team.

Tip-off for the game between Notre Dame (10-1) and Saint Joseph’s (3-6) is set for 1 p.m. EST, with the game to air live and free of charge on the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND.

“There will be some emotions,” McGraw said. “I know part of me will be saying, `The Hawk will never die.’ But I’ll forget that when it’s tip-off.”

McGraw helped the Hawks get the women’s basketball program off the ground. She started for four seasons, the first four seasons of varsity women’s basketball at Saint Joseph’s. She captained the Hawks her junior and senior seasons and was honored for a record-setting career as a player and coach by being inducted into the Saint Joseph’s University Women’s Basketball and Athletics halls of fame and the Big Five Hall of Fame, along with being in the national Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Saint Joseph’s vice president for athletics/athletic director Don DiJulia said it was easy to see a great future in basketball when McGraw was playing for the Hawks.

“I was privileged to be here when she was a player,” DiJulia said. “She was a team leader from the get-go. They are always easy to spot, especially the really good ones, and she was one of those really good ones.

“After she finished playing, she went into coaching, and she made an immediate impact. There was no question that she was going to have success. She had great instincts, and she was savvy in terms of being able to relate to young people. She has a great ability to deal with people. It’s outstanding.”

DiJulia said McGraw is well deserving of the Hall of Fame accolades as a coach, in addition to being honored as a player.

“Coach McGraw certainly has learned the game and has become a great teacher of the game,” DiJulia said. “You knew she was going to help student-athletes become champions. There was no question in my mind that Muffet was going to get it right.”

When Notre Dame switched from the BIG EAST Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Irish lost their trips to Philadelphia to play Villanova.

“I wanted to go back to Philly–and Saint Joe’s was the ideal choice,” McGraw said. “I have some roots there, so next year when we go back there it will be great. All of my former teammates will be there. We still are best friends.”

McGraw said her experiences at Saint Joe’s paved the way for a successful career at Notre Dame.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my experiences at Saint Joe’s,” said McGraw, who guided Notre Dame to a national title in 2001 and has coached the Irish to the last four NCAA Final Fours (six overall). “I owe a lot to that. I don’t think I ever imagined that women’s basketball would be where it is now and how far we’ve come.

“Being part of the Saint Joe’s community and the Catholic values that play such a big role there, that’s a big part of me. Going to Catholic school my whole life, I think the values are all still the same. My Saint Joe’s experience, the values, the sense of community, they all made Notre Dame a perfect fit for me.”

For DiJulia, the visit to Notre Dame will be the experience of a lifetime for the Hawks’ players.

“This series means a lot to us,” DiJulia said. “Notre Dame is obviously a national brand. There are a lot of Notre Dame fans in Philadelphia and the East, and Saint Joseph’s likes to expand its wings a little bit and take its program to different places. That furthers success in the long haul.

“We would be proud to continue the series. Hopefully, we can keep a regular series going, maybe not every year, because some programs like to play in different parts of the country, but maybe we could play an interrupted series.

“Muffet is family. Her sister went to school here, her mother and her father are die-hard Hawks fans, and Matt was our assistant coach, too, when Muffet was here. We’re proud to know all of the family.”

— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent