Note to Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw: Thanks for the memory, and the note

  • Notre Dame basketball coach Muffet McGraw celebrates after defeating Mississippi State in the final of the women's NCAA Final Four in April 2018 in Columbus, Ohio.

    Notre Dame basketball coach Muffet McGraw celebrates after defeating Mississippi State in the final of the women's NCAA Final Four in April 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw at media day in 2019.

    Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw at media day in 2019. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw directs the team in the first half of a game against Connecticut this season.

    Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw directs the team in the first half of a game against Connecticut this season. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Fans of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw were in full force at the 2019 Final Four championship against Baylor.

    Fans of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw were in full force at the 2019 Final Four championship against Baylor. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw directs her players in a game this season.

    Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw directs her players in a game this season. ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
 
Updated 4/30/2020 6:39 PM

I still have it.

And I will always keep it.

 

I treasure it.

When I was a senior in high school in Culver, Ind., I signed a National Letter of Intent in the fall of 1989 to play college basketball at Northwestern.

Before doing that, I had to call the other four coaches of my final five schools where I took official visits and thank them for their scholarship offers, but tell them that I was going with Northwestern.

One coach was snippy and rude. The others were very gracious.

One of the three was incredibly gracious.

Months later, after I was named Indiana Miss Basketball, a letter came for me from Muffet McGraw, the head women's basketball coach at Notre Dame who just surprised the sports world last week by announcing her retirement after 33 years and two NCAA national championships.

Notre Dame was one of my five finalists.

I had a great visit at Notre Dame where, among other things, I went to a football game and to Sunday brunch at McGraw's house.

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I thought long and hard about Notre Dame, but ultimately chose Northwestern because of its top-rated journalism school, and because the team was really good my junior year in high school and won the Big Ten championship during my senior year.

McGraw was disappointed, but understanding and kind.

She went above and beyond when she mailed me that handwritten note congratulating me on winning Miss Basketball. She said she was proud of me and that I was representing Indiana well, and she wished me the best of luck at Northwestern.

I was blown away by that letter, such an above-and-beyond nice gesture, which is why I kept it to this day.

McGraw, now 64, was about three years into her tenure at Notre Dame at the time. She was as competitive as anyone on the recruiting trail as she sought to build her program, and yet she took time to send a kind, thoughtful handwritten letter to a recruit whom she lost to another school.

Who does that?

That's my best Muffet McGraw story.

The others mostly involve my interactions with her as a reporter covering her team for the newspaper, and for radio and television. Each time, McGraw was cooperative, accommodating, colorful and as gracious as she was the day she wrote me that note.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

McGraw can come off as aloof and overly-serious while she is coaching or when she is conducting a postgame news conference. But I believe a big part of her success at Notre Dame over the years was her warmth on a personal level, and her ability to make each of her players feel special, as she did with me years ago.

McGraw took Notre Dame from a decent program competing in conferences such as the North Star and the Midwestern Collegiate, to a perennial Top 10 team and a legitimate national title contender while competing in the Big East and the ACC.

The Irish won their first NCAA title in 2001 behind Ruth Riley, one of the best centers in the history of the game, and then the 2018 national title on one of the best buzzer-beaters of all time by Arike Ogunbowale.

Over McGraw's 33 years, Notre Dame has been to 10 Final Fours and finished as the national runner-up five times. The Irish have also rolled up 10 30-win seasons and 29 20-win seasons over that period. She won 936 games in her career, 842 at Notre Dame.

This past season, the Irish posted one of the roughest seasons in McGraw's career, finishing 13-18 for only the second losing season since McGraw took over in 1987.

"I have been blessed to coach so many phenomenal women ... and to the best fans in the country, it was my honor and privilege to play for you," she said in her retirement statement on Twitter.

The statement was accompanied by a picture of her and husband Matt after a game, both holding No. 1 fingers high into the air. Matt was a fixture at games, usually wearing neon green and sitting in the front row.

When I covered DePaul's game at Notre Dame this season, Matt came up to me and asked if I remembered brunch at his house.

I said, "Of course, I remember that!"

It was pretty neat, after all, to eat brunch at the house of a college basketball coach, especially one who went on to such greatness.

"Matt and I want to thank everyone who has touched our lives and shared a part of our amazing journey," McGraw continued in her Twitter statement. "We will treasure the memories for the rest of our lives. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I can turn the page to the next chapter in my life with no regrets, knowing that I gave it my best every day."

Indeed you did, Muffet.

Even on days when she lost a recruit to another school, McGraw certainly gave it her very best.

And that is something I will always remember, too.

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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