Jan. 11, 2000
By Peggy Curtin
Most people know Ruth Riley the athlete.
Riley, one of the most accomplished and recognizable women’s basketball players in Notre Dame history, has dominated the paint for the Irish over the last three seasons. A 6-5 center, she is a leading candidate for national player-of-the-year honors after earning third-team All-America honors as a sophomore and leading the country in field-goal percentage.
“Ruth Riley the athlete is completely focused on the court,” Riley says. “I’m intense when I’m playing, and I guess I kind of step out of myself on the court, especially in terms of aggressiveness.”
So far this season, Ruth Riley the athlete is averaging 15.2 points a game to go along with a team-best 6.8 rebounding average and has hit 62.2 percent of her shots from the field. She has scored in double-figures in 11 of the team’s 13 games, while reaching both the 1,000 career-point and 500 career-rebound milestones.
What people don’t know about Riley goes beyond her trademark headband to Ruth Riley the student and Ruth Riley the person.
Riley the student has been named to the Notre Dame Dean’s List all five of her semesters at the University. A psychology major in the College of Arts and Letters, she is a member of the Academic Honors Program which matches top achieving student-athletes with faculty mentors. Riley also has been named to the BIG EAST Academic All-Star team the past two seasons and earned GTE/CoSIDA all-district honors in 1999.
“Ruth Riley the student is laid back, kind of quiet, likes to joke around a lot and is easy going,” Riley says.
To find out who Ruth Riley the person is, one must go back to her roots at North Miami High School and her hometown of Macy, Ind., just under two hours south of the golden dome at Notre Dame.
At North Miami, Riley set 17 school records and tallied over 1,300 points, 1,000 rebounds and 400 blocks. A USA Today Honorable Mention All-American and first team all-state selection as a senior, she returned just last week to her alma mater to have her number 25 jersey retired.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Riley said before the January 6 ceremony. “I’m so happy going back there. When I played high school basketball it meant a lot to me and my experiences there still effect my game now.”
There is no doubt, however, that Riley has come a long way since her days at North Miami.
“I think basketball is where you can see my maturity the most,” Riley says. “It’s a different style of play, because it’s so much more complicated. I’m a lot stronger and a lot smarter now than I was back then.”
Part of that maturity both on and off the court has been due to her many new experiences at Notre Dame and with USA Basketball over the past two summers. Coming from Macy, a town of just over 200 people, Riley has been to 17 states so far in her three seasons with the Irish. During the summer of 1998, she got the chance to go to Puerto Rico, Poland and Spain with the USA Women’s Basketball Select Team on an eight-game tour. Last summer, Riley’s involvement with USA Basketball once again took her across the ocean to Spain, where she earned a silver medal at the World University Games.
“My experiences reflect on who I am,” Riley says. “USA Basketball has given me a great opportunity to go overseas in the summers and traveling here at Notre Dame – being in the BIG EAST- and going all over the place with our games has allowed me to meet different people and see a lot of things. It just makes you appreciate things a lot more once you’ve been exposed to them.”
Exposure is nothing new to Riley. Between her appearances in a number of national publications, her live chat sessions on the internet and her soon-to-be-released website, Riley is a fan favorite and has been known to sign more than her fair share of autographs after games.
“I can’t remember when the first time someone asked me for my autograph,” Riley said. “I’m kind of used to it now, but whenever a little kid comes up to you, it makes you step back and realize the influence you have on people.”
Off the court, Riley doesn’t show signs that her popularity or the hype surrounding her athletic accomplishments have affected who she is.
“A lot of people don’t know that she cooks,” teammate Niele Ivey said. “She does little things that are just really nice for people like coming down to my room with a plate full of brownies. She does that for a lot of people on our team, which you would never expect Ruth to do. It’s just little things like that, which show how much she cares about people. It is a great quality to have.”
When she’s not in the kitchen baking, Riley likes to just hang out with her friends and stay as low-key as possible. She also enjoys playing card games such as spades and Euchre and collecting shot glasses and postcards from her various travels at home and abroad.
Although most people will probably remember Ruth Riley the athlete more so than Ruth Riley the student or the person when she graduates from Notre Dame in two years, it is the latter description that Riley would rather be remembered by.
“I’d rather be known as Ruth Riley the person, because everything else is going to go away sometime,” Riley says. “I’m not going to be playing basketball forever and there are better athletes out there, so to hold me in that regard wouldn’t last very long. Who I am really defines what I want people to remember me as.”