March 29, 2001
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) – The day Muffet McGraw became women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame was a joyous one for her family – especially her father.
“I don’t know who was happier, my husband or my dad,” McGraw said, a grin spreading across her face. “My dad hasn’t had to buy a beer at the Knights of Columbus since I’ve been at Notre Dame.”
There has been plenty for dad to toast.
Now in her 14th season with the Irish and in her second Final Four, McGraw received The Associated Press coach of the year award Thursday. She shared the podium with Notre Dame center Ruth Riley, who was voted the player of the year, making it a clean sweep for the Irish.
They make an interesting pair – the 6-foot-5 Riley towers over her coach, who is at least a foot shorter and was a feisty point guard in her playing days at St. Joseph’s.
“I think we’re both very competitive,” McGraw said. “I think our personalities are similar in that we don’t like to have a lot of sit-down meetings to talk about what we’re going to do. We just want to go out and do it. We’re a little impatient just to get things done.”
The Irish have done a lot this season. They gained their first No. 1 ranking in The AP poll, beat Connecticut for the first time, shared the Big East title with UConn and will take a 32-2 record into yet another meeting with the Huskies in Friday night’s national semifinals.
This is what Riley hoped for when, as a high school senior in Macy, Ind., she watched Notre Dame in the 1997 Final Four.
“It was so exciting to watch knowing that was where I was going to go,” she said. “You just can’t help but wish that you were a year older and be a part of that already. But I think it showed a lot of potential. It showed me that was possible for where I was going.”
McGraw was an overwhelming choice in the voting by AP member newspapers nationwide, receiving 60 votes to 12 for the runner-up, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.
|The Associated Press Coach of the Year, Muffet McGraw, left, and AP Player of the Year Ruth Riley, pose with their awards after a ceremony in St. Louis, Thursday, March 29, 2001. Notre Dame will play Connecticut in Friday’s semifinals game of the 2001 NCAA Women’s Final Four. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)|
One of the many women’s coaches to come out of the Philadelphia area, McGraw got her start at Philly’s Archbishop Carroll High School, where she was 50-3 in two seasons.
“I just loved playing so much that when that was over, I was looking for something else to do that would keep me in basketball,” McGraw said. “Plus, I was a sociology major. Who could find a job in that field?
“So I went into coaching and I knew from the first practice this is my passion. I love the game and I needed to stay in coaching.”
McGraw is 408-158 in 19 seasons as a college coach, the first five at Lehigh. She has 12 20-win seasons at Notre Dame, and this season’s team set a school record for victories.
Riley, who edged Southwest Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles 30-26 for the player award, has been a large part of McGraw’s success. Nearly impossible to defend 1-on-1, Riley averages 18.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. She shoots 63 percent from the field, averages three blocks a game and can pass out of double-teams with the skill of Bill Walton.
“She’s one in a million,” McGraw said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a player like her, somebody who has done so much for our program at both ends of the floor.”
Thursday’s award was the latest in a string of accolades for Riley, who was a unanimous All-American, an academic All-American and the Naismith Award winner. Wednesday, while her team was flying to St. Louis, Riley flew to Minneapolis to appear on an ESPN awards shown, then was flown to St. Louis to rejoin her team.
“It’s kind of hard since we’re still playing. All you’re thinking about is this weekend and the games we have to play,” Riley said. “At the same time, you’re receiving all these awards. It’s a little emotional and a little draining, but it’s really a lot of fun.
“This is a great weekend for us, and we’re excited to be here.”