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Sunday Brunch: Irish Women (At Some Point) Move On

June 30, 2018

By John Heisler

There’s a major logjam in the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball offices these days.

It’s not in the hallways but rather on the top shelves of the various counters and tables in the outer office.

That’s where the major Irish trophies are housed–and there’s no room at the inn.

The top of one file cabinet plays host to six Atlantic Coast Conference championship trophies (tournament or regular season) along with six NCAA Regional Championship trophies.

In the middle of all those is the 2017-18 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association championship trophy, with a life-size crystal basketball on top.

Another table holds the 2017-18 Associated Press Coach of the Year hardware won by Karen and Kevin Keyes head coach Muffet McGraw (yet another table holds those same trophies for that same award from 2012-13 and 2013-14).

There are even more team and individual award trophies from the ACC to be found.

But space is now at a premium.

The countertop seems to have a perpetually replenishing supply of Sports Illustrated covers of Arike Ogunbowale‘s title-winning shot in Columbus, awaiting (naturally) signatures from McGraw and Ogunbowale.

“That’s my shoe down in the corner of that shot, so I’m kind of on the cover,” McGraw says with a laugh.

Any way you look at it, these are very nice problems to have for an athletic program.

McGraw’s schedule has taken on a few more line items thanks to yet another trophy she and her Irish brought home from the 2018 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.

McGraw made a May trip to New York City where she and Villanova coach Jay Wright and their staffs both received the Winged Foot Award from the New York Athletic Club.

Most Thursdays over the last few months, the NCAA Championship trophy has been making public appearances around South Bend–with McGraw and her assistant coaches along as often as they are available.

There will be a trip to the ESPYS in Los Angeles later this month–with the Irish program up for three different awards (best team, moment and play–vote at

Notre Dame merited even more postseason headlines when Ogunbowale appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” and the Harlem Globetrotters drafted Lili Thompson.

It all represents the trappings of a championship season–one that seemed a bit unlikely, given all the Irish injuries, even though Notre Dame headed to Columbus as a successful number-one regional seed after come-from-behind NCAA victories over Texas A&M and Oregon.

The offseason has produced a steady stream of notes, texts and emails for McGraw. That’s what happens when you’ve been in the business as long as she has. She’s heard from a long list of colleagues and friends across the years and seasons.

“It has been just a ton of old friends that have been a part of my journey,” she says.

Basketball camps around the Joyce Center are routine for the Irish programs. Yet McGraw’s presence alone seems to prompt a number of young girls to gaze at her wistfully, remembering Ogunbowale’s game-winners, almost as if to say, “Maybe that could be me making that shot some day.”

Check out this recent tweet: “The Notre Dame women’s basketball coach just said hi to me. . . . . basically I’m recruited!”

McGraw has no reason to discourage any of this. She understands there’s a time to move on to 2018-19–and that officially came recently with the start of summer school at Notre Dame when her new team could officially take the floor for practice.

“We’re probably more of the defending champ than usual because we’ve got four starters back. It’s not like everybody graduated,” says Notre Dame’s head coach.

And that doesn’t even include Brianna Turner and Mikayla Vaughn, two of the four key players who were sidelined by ACL injuries last winter–nor any of the four incoming freshmen.

McGraw is continually approached by dozens of people who want to relive those championship moments. She laughs, thinking that some day the number of people who tell her they were there in Columbus may approach 100,000.

For her part, McGraw says she has yet to sit down to re-watch the Final Four victories over Connecticut and Mississippi State.

“I haven’t watched any of it, but everybody keeps talking about it. It’s fun to hear people say, `This is where I was on that Easter Sunday watching the game,'” she says.

Given the unlikely aspects of Notre Dame’s iron-man lineup and limited depth in March and April, maybe McGraw is afraid if she pinches herself it will all be revealed as an illusion.

She needn’t worry.

The trophies, magazine covers, cards and letters are proof positive.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.