July 17, 2006

posted by Chris Masters, Assistant Sports Information Director

The Blog is back after a couple of weeks off. Sorry it’s been a while, but now that we’re back, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on that should make the wait worth it.

Off-season Workout Hope all of you have enjoyed as much as I have the great diary entries from Luke Zeller during his trip to Taiwan with the gold-medal winning Athletes in Action Jones Cup team. Sounds like Luke played very well and learned a lot over the course of the foreign tour … who says the learning stops for our players during the summer time?

Back here on this side of the pond, the learning hasn’t ended for the Irish women’s team either. I always enjoy the summer because it gives me a chance to check out the team’s pick-up games, see how the new players are fitting in and also see how the vets are growing as well. The old cliché goes that the real mark of a championship caliber team and championship players is how they do “when no one is watching.” That goes for pick-up games, off-season workouts, summer classes … everything.

Lindsey and a fan During the summer, you find out who the leaders on your team are going to be for next season. Most people assume it’s going to be the seniors, or at the very least, the upperclassmen, who will be the ones to kick their teammates in the tail and get ’em moving. And sure, after watching the Irish women scrimmage a few times, some of the vets like Crystal Erwin and Tulyah Gaines are moving to the forefront – but I’d expect nothing less from someone as vocal as Crystal, whom her teammates sometimes call “Mama” for the way she watches over her teammates on and off the floor. And as the point guard for Irish, Tulyah knows she’s got to be a leader by both her actions and her words, and judging by her off-season play so far, she’s more than ready.

But other leaders can show up in quiet ways, simply by how they play. Fans of the Irish will remember Alicia Ratay and Teresa Borton as a couple of the more recent “do as I do” kinds of leaders. If I had to take an early guess based on these pick-up games, I’d say you’re going to see some of the same qualities in next year’s club from people like Charel Allen and Melissa D’Amico. Speaking of Mel, she’s back from San Diego and Pete Newell’s Tall Women Camp and boy, has her confidence returned in a big way (pardon the pun). If you’ll recall, she was a real force for us in the post during last year’s non-conference schedule (remember her MVP performance at the Vegas tournament?), but things got off track for her a little in the second half of the year. Now, she seems to be back headed in the right direction, and more importantly, it’s been great to see that smile of hers return.

Lindsey in the Jello Summer is also a great time to get to know the freshmen and some of their stories. Take Erica Williamson, for instance – she wins a state title as a junior in high school up in Rochester, New York. Then her dad gets a new job in Charlotte, so she moves south and helps her new team win a state title down there. Two state titles, two states, two different years … that’s pretty amazing. But moving around is nothing new to Erica and her family. In fact, she was born in the Philippines and lived in southeast Asia (Indonesia and Singapore) until she was 7 before coming to the States. Talk about your cultural development – and even more impressive is how open and engaging she is. From the first time I spoke with her, I felt as though I’d know her for years. She’s also looked good in a couple of the pick-up games I’ve seen – you always like to see post players with strong hands, and she’s got ’em, not to mention a nice array of moves on the block. She’s going to fit right in here at Notre Dame, both on and off the floor.

Erica also is one of several Irish players who have been involved in other activities outside of classes and off-season workouts. She, Lindsay Schrader and Amanda Tsipis, along with our director of basketball operations Stephanie Menio (who we all know is a non-stop ball of energy) were out in Granger last Saturday for a Big Brothers/Big Sisters event called “Slime Time.” No, it wasn’t related to a show on Nickelodeon, but rather a chance for folks (local celebs and the general public alike) to go down a makeshift slide into a huge vat of jello – colored Irish green, of course. As you can see from these pictures we got, it was a whole lot of fun and a great way to cool off from the hot summer days we’ve been having lately.

Erica in some Jello Another Irish player out and about has been Breona Gray, who is spending her summer as an intern in the marketing department with the Elkhart Express, the expansion International Basketball League (IBL) squad. Bre has been an important part of the grassroots marketing effort that has marked that organization’s rapid growth and popularity in the Michiana area, and the Express (including former Irish favorite and current Notre Dame athletic department employee Harold Swanagan) were that league’s top team all year long, winning the IBL title this past Sunday at famed North Side Gym in Elkhart. Hopefully, it’s the first of several championships Bre will be a part of in the coming year.

With all that’s going here on campus for the players, you might forget about the coaching staff, but they’ve been hard at work criss-crossing the country during the month of July (also known as “recruiting season”). I’m often getting text messages and calls from the coaches at one of their various stops on the circuit … I even got one text from a coach (“he” shall remain nameless) at a Japanese steakhouse – of course, I should have known he’d find one as he’s become a veritable Zagat’s guide to Japanese steakhouses nationwide (and I confess, I’m right there with him whenever we’re on the road).

This week is the “dead period” in the July recruiting cycle, which means coaches can’t be on the road. For some, it’s a chance to rest and recharge with the family. For Coach McGraw, it means a chance to get out in the community and help out a great cause. On Thursday, she’s going be participating as the honorary chair of “Jazz on the Terrace,” a fund-raiser to help benefit RiverBend Cancer Services in Michiana. Coach is going to be serving as a celebrity auctioneer at the event, which is scheduled for 5:30-9 p.m. (ET) at the Beiger Mansion Inn (317 Lincolnway East) in Mishawaka. Tickets are just $35 — talk about a terrific opportunity to enjoy some great music and fun, not to mention see Coach wield the auctioneer’s gavel.

Players in the Jello Another quick reminder for you WNBA and Notre Dame fans in the Midwest – former Irish greats Ruth Riley and Jacqueline Batteast will lead the Detroit Shock against Lisa Leslie and the L.A. Sparks on Friday (July 21) at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids before a visit to Chicago on Aug. 4. And, former Irish point guard Megan Duffy (called “Tough Duff” by her Minnesota Lynx teammates) will be rolling through the area in the next couple of weeks with games in Chicago (July 28) and Indianapolis (Aug. 3). Those will be the last games this season for Notre Dame players in this neck of the woods, so if you can, make sure to get out and support the Irish as they continue their basketball careers in the pros. If you can’t make in person, tune in for their last national TV appearances of the regular season – Detroit on Aug. 1 (8 p.m. ET vs. Indiana on ESPN2) and Minnesota on Aug. 8 (9:30 p.m. ET at Phoenix, also on The Deuce). Here on und.com, we’ve also developed a place to check on the status of all Notre Dame alums in the WNBA – stop by at http://und.cstv.com/sports/w-baskbl/spec-rel/071106aab.html.

One last piece of advice before we close this installment of the Blog … those of you who are season ticket holders for the Irish women – make sure to renew your tickets early as we’re going to have a ton of home games in this, our 30th year of Notre Dame women’s basketball (18 to be exact, including the two exhibitions). Can’t divulge the opponents yet, but they’re definitely a who’s-who in college basketball. And talk about the best deal in town – when you buy season tickets, it’s less than $4 per ticket per game … you spend more money to go to a movie or hit the local restaurant. So renew those tickets now! And if you haven’t yet bought season tickets to Notre Dame women’s basketball, there’s no time like the present – we’ll be taking new season ticket applications soon, so keep an eye peeled for details. The Irish are a hot ticket these days – we’ve ranked among the top 20 in the nation in attendance the past six years – and with so much young, fresh talent on this team, you know we’re going to be a national force for years to come. And don’t forget we’re hosting NCAA tournament games in 2010 – season ticket holders have first dibs on postseason tickets, so don’t be left out!!