In April 2020, on the day Niele Ivey was named the new head coach of women's basketball at Notre Dame, she could look back and trace how one opportunity led to another, and how the chain of those experiences had brought her back home. She was a former All-America guard for the Fighting Irish and the 19th pick in the 2001 WNBA draft. She had been an assistant to Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw for 12 seasons and most recently spent the last year as part of the Memphis Grizzlies coaching staff. Now she was the first Black female head coach in school history, and only the fourth-ever women's basketball coach. Her son, Jaden, would be playing basketball just a few hours away at Purdue. Everything had led to this moment. Nothing could've prepared her for a pandemic.
She coached in a mask and gloves. Every morning she waited to see if one of her players had tested positive for the coronavirus. Her first win at Purcell Pavilion played out to a group of less than 100 live fans because of COVID-19 protocols. After missing the NCAA tournament last March for the first time since 1995, the Irish beat Ohio University 105-69 in their first 2021-22 game in front of more than 4,500. Notre Dame takes on Western Illinois on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, ACCNX).
ESPN followed Ivey's historic first year to get a behind-the-scenes look at taking over a storied program in a pandemic.
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Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Michelle Bashaw, Belca Bedoya-Pedyna, Heather Donahue, Karen Frank, Alecia Hamm, Kaitlin Marron.
Written by Dana Lee. Edited by Melanie Jackson.
Photography by Matt Cashore, Jay Davalos, Mustafa Hussain, Michelle Kanaar.
Additional Photography by AP Photo, Fighting Irish Media, Getty Images.