McGraw works to mesh young and old talent for Irish
McGraw wore white basketball shoes, blue warm-up pants and a collared pink sports shirt. She also wore her game face.
During a recent workout before the official start of practice this week, McGraw already was in full teaching mode.
"Teaching is my favorite part of coaching -- practice and teaching and seeing it all come together," McGraw said. "I love that. I really do. I get excited this time of the year."
McGraw, who has guided Notre Dame to consecutive national championship appearances, faces the challenge of teaching an Irish team that must replace three starters.
"It's really hard," McGraw said of balancing practice between veterans like Skylar Diggins, Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride and the three freshmen.
"The veterans are so far ahead because we ran a lot of this stuff last year. They're already in the second phase of the offense, and the freshmen are still in the first phase. We're trying to go slow. We're young. We have to be patient. That's going to be the challenge for the veterans."
Freshmen Jewell Loyd, Michaela Mabrey and Hannah Huffman bring plenty of talent, and their effort in the early stages has pleased McGraw.
"I'm really happy," McGraw said. "The intensity has been good. The competitiveness has been good. We're working really hard and we're trying to make each other work hard. I'm pleased with the attitude. The younger players are fitting in well."
With the addition of Notre Dame to the Atlantic Coast Conference, perhaps by the 2013-14 season, the league announced that women's basketball will have an 18-game conference schedule.
Each team of the 15 league members will play every other team in the conference once. Each team will also will have two permanent partners for a home-and-home series each season, and then two other home-and-home games with teams that will be selected on a rotating basis.
Notre Dame's permanent partners for a home-and-home series each season will be Georgia Tech and Boston College.
"We're excited," McGraw said. "Boston College is sort of a natural rivalry for us. I think our fans will enjoy that game. Georgia Tech is a team we've never played. That will be interesting to try and create a new rivalry. Atlanta is great, because that's a recruiting base for us now. It's great to know that we'll be going to Atlanta every year.
"I think it will be interesting to see if there's any sort of balance in the people that you play home-and-home with. You could be playing the four top teams in the league, and someone else could be playing the bottom four teams in the league."
An intense leader
South Bend native Skylar Diggins is used to providing intensity and leadership to the Irish attack. Now the Notre Dame point guard will be doing it as a senior.
"I think I push the competitive nature and intensity of the younger players, because I think those are two things that describe me the best," Diggins said. "I'm just trying to be smart for them, do some thinking for them, because right now, everybody's head is spinning.
"Sometimes you even have to remind the juniors and seniors, 'When we run Princeton, you're on this side.' But we have players who can play, and we have shooters, and we have competitors. This team just wants to play. We're excited to compete. What I like is our willingness to get better, to stay late and shoot after practice, to get in the gym and work when nobody's watching. That's the type of attitude that these women have, and that will transfer into games."
Diggins was a member of the USA three-on-three women's basketball team that won a gold medal in the World Games in August.
Diggins loved the experience, and hopes that three-on-three basketball will become part of the 2016 Olympics.
"What I really want to play is five-on-five in the Olympics," Diggins said. "But if they ask me to play three-on-three, I'd say yes. I'm doing a persuasive speech in my management communications class, and I'm trying to persuade my classmates to write a letter to the International Olympic Committee explaining why they would like to see three-on-three in the Olympics.
"If I have to, I may have to take advantage of the social media to convince the IOC," said Diggins, who has 264,453 Twitter followers. "I'm not playing the Twitter card yet, but I've got it in my back pocket."
Notre Dame sophomore shooting guard Madison Cable slid over to the left corner during one scrimmage session, took a pass and swished a 3-pointer.
Cable missed all of last season with a stress fracture, and McGraw isn't sure that she can count on her being at full strength this season.
"Madison looked good in practice, but the next day, the (medical staff) may say that she needs to take three weeks off," McGraw said. "She's allowed to go 20-to-30 minutes a day. I'm really pleased with what she's doing. She's really showing us a lot of mental toughness, playing through this, but her feet are sore every day. It's going to be a struggle. I'm not getting my hopes up."