Niele Ivey: ‘Bonus year’ has been valuable for early enrollee Olivia Miles

A top 2021 prospect, Miles has impressed since joining the Irish

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Olivia Miles should not be here, in Greensboro, North Carolina, preparing to play in her first ACC tournament.

If all things were normal, Miles would be finishing up her senior high school season in New Jersey at Blair Academy. She wouldn’t have just played against Dana Evans at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. She wouldn’t be preparing to face Clemson at the historic Greensboro Coliseum.

But this is 2021, and the pandemic is still ongoing, and not much is normal.

And so, Miles decided in January to enroll early at Notre Dame. Ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the 2021 class by ESPN, Miles was one of more than 20 women’s basketball recruits to enroll early this season. Miles and others — such as Oregon State’s Talia von Oelhoffen — are taking advantage of the NCAA’s COVID-era ruling that allows this season’s winter athletes to play five seasons in a six-year window. Essentially, this season doesn’t count toward a player’s eligibility clock.

But Miles hasn’t just been enjoying the free ride at Notre Dame. She hasn’t been shocked by the big stage, either. Miles is playing real minutes and contributing significantly for a team on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.

“I call it a bonus year for (Miles), and we talk about it a lot,” first-year Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey said earlier this week on a Zoom call. “Because she's gaining so much experience this year, being basically thrown to the fire … It's going to help her develop down the road, especially for next year. So, it's nothing but positive, this experience for her.”

Since joining the team and playing her first game on Jan. 31 — 14 minutes in a loss at Syracuse — Miles is averaging 9.2 points, 2.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 53.6% from the floor. Her scoring average is already fifth-best on the team.

She’s also dishing out more assists than she is coughing up turnovers (+2), and — according to Her Hoop Stats — Miles’ 19.2 PER is 24th-best in the ACC. While the sample size is small, those numbers are notable and somewhat remarkable for a player who should be preparing for her high school graduation, not playing Division I basketball in a Power 5 conference.

Miles has been impressive and she’s making the most of this chance to play in extra games with the Irish.

Notre Dame is 2-3 in games that Miles has played in, but two of those losses came against No. 5 Louisville, the ACC’s regular-season champs. Miles had arguably her best game yet in Notre Dame’s loss to the Cardinals on Sunday, totaling 11 points, six assists, and four boards in 33 minutes of play.

Ivey used the word “cerebral” in describing Miles’ play and what she’s brought to the Irish in just a few weeks on the hardwood.

“She’s brought swag, confidence. She is a true point guard,” Ivey said. “And that's something that I did not have this season. So, just her high IQ and ability just to run the team. To be honest, everything I tell her, she's a sponge. Very coachable. Whatever I give her, she can just deliver on the court.”

Miles chose Notre Dame over offers from dozens of top programs, including UConn, Stanford, North Carolina, and Oregon. She was a member of the USA U16 team that won gold at the FIBA games in 2019. A 5’10 guard with electric abilities and sharp vision, she committed to Notre Dame last April.

A year later, she’s trying to make sure they don’t miss the NCAA tournament for a second straight season.

According to the latest bracket projections from ESPN and The Next, Notre Dame is firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Next’s Russell Steinberg has the Irish among his First Four Out and ESPN’s Charlie Creme has the Irish as his last team in.

Steinberg says that Notre Dame “must” beat Clemson in their opening ACC tournament game on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. to have a chance to crack the NCAA field.

“If they only get that and lose to Georgia Tech, then they’ll need a ton of help,” Steinberg said of Notre Dame. “Beat Georgia Tech, and they’re in a much better position as that’s likely to be a huge NET bump as well.”

Ivey is conscious of Notre Dame’s tournament positioning, saying, “If we could win one game in the ACC tournament, I think that’s going to be huge for our body of work.”

Miles has gotten more comfortable with the Irish as the season has gone along. If she continues to play well in Greensboro, it’ll only increase Notre Dame’s chances of dancing later this month.

“She's been an incredible addition,” Ivey said. “And I'm super blessed to have her.”