SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Future Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner might not even be the most prominent early enrollee to hit campus this month.
Olivia Miles, the nation’s second-ranked high school point guard and generally considered a program-altering personality on and off the floor, joined first-year coach Niele Ivey’s Fighting Irish women’s basketball team this week after completing the mandatory quarantine.
Her senior season at northern New Jersey’s Blair Academy delayed by statewide COVID-19 restrictions, Miles instead got a head start on her highly anticipated college career.
“I had never thought that this was even an option until one of my [high school] teammates did it,” Miles said Friday on her 18th birthday. “This is such a great opportunity. I love the girls at Blair. I love my team. It was definitely hard. But I was doing something for myself that could really benefit me in the long run.”
Miles’ debut is set for Sunday at Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Her first home game won’t happen until Feb. 18 in the rematch with the Orange.
Thanks to the NCAA’s decision in October, winter-sports athletes get to play this season without burning a year of eligibility, regardless of whether their season is affected by the pandemic. Even though Miles would suit up for at most only seven regular-season games, she still could make an impact for an Irish team that’s tied for fifth in the ACC at 6-4 and is 8-6 overall.
A crowd-pleasing passer and long-range shooter who has modeled her game after Steph Curry and Trae Young on the men’s side along with WNBA stars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, Miles is a throwback who waxes just as poetic when recounting the passing abilities of Magic Johnson and Steve Nash.
“Olivia is an impact player; she’s a program-changer,” Ivey said. “When you see her and she steps on the floor, she has that ‘it’ factor. She’s got a flash to her game. She’s great in transition, and she’s got vision we’ve probably never seen in this program.”
Considering Ivey played and coached for Notre Dame national championship teams on either side of her WNBA playing career, that’s high praise. The lead recruiter for more than a decade under her Naismith Hall of Fame mentor Muffet McGraw, Ivey returned to campus upon McGraw’s retirement last April.
A former national championship point guard herself, Ivey moved quickly to secure Miles’ commitment within two days of being announced as Notre Dame’s coach. Until the pandemic shut down the 2019-20 NBA season, Ivey was a Memphis Grizzlies assistant who had a key role in molding NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant.
Ivey first saw Miles play as an eighth-grader, and her recruitment began in earnest the next year.
One of McGraw’s first text messages upon announcing her retirement was to Miles, who had been strongly considering Notre Dame, Stanford and North Carolina. Along with her parents, Maria and Yakubu — chemical and software engineers, respectively — Miles prioritized academics over basketball in her recruitment.
“Just an amazing family — a very humble, very well-grounded family,” Ivey said. “They have done a phenomenal job raising a great young lady. I’m blessed they gave me the opportunity for her to come early and trusted me with my vision and everything I’m going to try to do for Olivia.”
The coaching change proved to be well-timed in terms of Miles’ decision.
“With Muffet, I loved her, but I felt such a more deep connection with Niele,” Miles told the podcast. “The amount of power in her personality and her voice and what she wants the culture to be and how she wants to run things and how she wants to speak up — that I was inspired by right away.”
While McGraw, 65, was at the end of a long and storied career, the 43-year-old Ivey is just getting started. Her son Jaden is a freshman guard at Purdue, so relating to college-age players comes naturally.
Miles has said talking to Ivey — about life, basketball and their shared commitment to social-justice issues — is “so easy.”
No one should be surprised if Miles makes the transition to the college game look just as smooth.