Niele and Jaden Ivey: Like mother, like son
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Family has long been at the heart of Notre Dame women's basketball, but few in the program have seen the positive impact of that more than assistant coach Niele Ivey, a national champion as both a player and coach, who's experienced some of the best moments of her life in South Bend.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to come back to Notre Dame, my home away from home, with my Notre Dame family and Muffet McGraw," she said on a rare light day before conference season began in full.
As recruiting coordinator for the Irish, Ivey has spent her fair share watching high school basketball, but that's become her routine off the clock as well.
"I don’t think she’s missed a game this season. She’s always staying positive and lifting me up as well,” said Jaden Ivey, Niele's only son, who is a junior at Marian High School, one of the favorites to win a Class 3A state title this spring.
For a college coach, simply cheering from the stands has been a lesson in its own.
“When Jaden first started playing, I was more of a coach. I was that parent screaming in the stands," Niele said. "I was like ‘OK, I can’t be like that.’ So I’ve learned to kind of take a step back. I’m there for Jaden and he knows I’m 100 percent in his corner. Biggest fan.”
“I’m the same when she’s out there!," Jaden laughed. "I’m rooting for Notre Dame as well.”
Jaden has spent his formative years around the Irish program, growing up on the sidelines and watching some of the best players in the nation.
But more than the connections, Niele's most appreciative that her son sees the kind of work it takes to have the level of sustained success to which the Irish have grown accustomed.
“Honestly one of the most rewarding moments of my life was having Jaden in the stands to see us actually win the national championship," she said. "He’s seen all the preparation, the hard work, the long nights. That was one of the most memorable times being a mother, having him run on the floor. He met me at half court.”
“I was so happy for my mom," Jaden said, recalling the moment they met for a hug moments after the buzzer sounded.
"I ran up to her right after the game. They stormed the court when Arike hit the shot. It was crazy. An unbelievable experience and I was so happy for her because I know how hard she works.”
Few understand the connection between Niele and Jaden more than head coach Muffet McGraw, who has welcomed Jaden's presence the whole way.
“He’s grown up as the little brother, but all of a sudden he’s gonna be the older brother to some of these girls" McGraw joked. "He’s got some great genes. I know Niele loves watching him play and he’s such a joy to her. He’s really a very good basketball player so I imagine there will be coaches sitting in their living room. They’re not going to get anything past her.”
That assumption has run true, especially in the past year, as Jaden's own recruitment has gained steam.
He now has offers from both Purdue and Notre Dame, among other Division I schools. However, having a recruiter in his own home has made a normally stress-filled process a little simpler.
“She knows what it’s like to be a coach and she goes on recruiting trips," Jaden said. "So I know I can always talk to her when I need advice. She’s going to be there for me no matter where I go or where I end up.”
Of course, there's no reason to think these connections are anything but a positive.
However, it's no surprise that having a parent whose name hangs in the Purcell Pavilion rafters just provides a little more incentive every time Jaden hits the court.
“It’s honestly motivation," he said. "All the success [my mom has] had over the years is great. That’s something I want to do. I want to step up my game and I want people to remember me. Maybe when I’m 20 or in the NBA some day. I want people to remember Jaden Ivey.”
And nobody wants those dreams to come true more than his biggest fan.
“It’s just really exciting for me to be able to watch his development and his growth, and to see that his hard work is paying off.”