Sometimes, the things that you learn outside of the classroom are as important as the things you learn inside the classroom.
Notre Dame women's basketball player Michaela Mabrey had moments of brilliance last season as a freshman. A trio of 3-pointers by Mabrey helped the Irish stun No. 1 Connecticut, 73-72, last January on Connecticut's on-campus court. But as the season progressed, the 5-foot-10 guard would only hit eight more 3-pointers in 33 attempts (21 percent) in the final 25 games of the season. Overall, Mabrey was 17-of-59 (29 percent) from 3-point range. She averaged 3.0 points a game last season.
Mabrey, who will be a sophomore next season, applied the knowledge gained from enduring the tests of her freshman season, and transformed herself into a player who can make more of an impact. She went home to Belmar, N.J., lost 15 pounds, and returned to South Bend stronger, quicker, and wiser.
"The transition to college is tough for a freshman," Mabrey said. "It's very tough. Anybody who comes here is a top recruit in the nation. You come here, and then you're with a whole bunch of people who are all the same as you, so you need to learn to adjust to a new role. You need to learn to adjust to a new situation. You have a lot of work to do. You don't have free time anymore. Here, school matters.
"Freshman year was tough, and I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from every one of them. This year, I'm back, I know what I'm doing, and I'm very excited for the upcoming season."
Mabrey enlisted her mother and her sister to help her in New Jersey.
"For the whole five weeks, we just worked out, mostly the entire day," Mabrey said. "I got back to the old me, the one who was confident. I brought that back here. I slimmed down. I ran every day. I worked out. I feel great right now. I'm carrying that over. I'm not relaxing. I'm working out every day. I'm still doing the same thing that I did every day at home on top of what I do here. I want to make a big difference when we play this year. I'm very excited, and I'm going to continue to work."
Irish coach Muffet McGraw loved the no-fear attitude that she saw when she recruited Mabrey. The Hall of Fame coach said she was impressed with how determined Mabrey was to improve from her freshman season.
"Michaela came back in great shape," McGraw said. "She looks so much better. It's an attitude that's different as much as how she looks. She worked hard while she was home. That was really important.
"Michaela really helped us win the Connecticut game in Storrs, and hit a couple of big shots in the USF game to help us win that. As a freshman, the season gets long. She may have lost a little bit of confidence."
Mabrey said that she came to Notre Dame thin, but didn't eat the right kinds of foods once she was on campus. She knew that she had to change herself, and that the change was going to happen as soon as she could make it happen.
"I didn't like how I felt and how I looked in the middle of the season," Mabrey said. "After the season, that month before I went home, I got a different eating plan, I started running a lot, I started to like the way I started looking and I liked the way I started feeling again. When I went home and I started lifting and running, I got a different body. I feel great. I feel faster, thinner, stronger."
Mabrey said that changing her body helped her change her attitude.
"I feel better about myself," Mabrey said. "I don't get tired. I'm able to play every single play as hard as I can. I have more confidence from all the work I've put in. Being with my family at home, they really brought me back to the person that I was. That was a blessing to be back home for five weeks. I'm just continuing to have that confidence. A lot of people have said stuff about me when I came back. 'You look great.' I'm going to keep it up."
According to McGraw, Mabrey's hard work will bring her more time on the court, and has put her in consideration for a chance to replace graduated All-American Skylar Diggins at point guard.
"Michaela can play the point," McGraw said. "She's a great passer. She's also a great 3-point shooter. There's always a spot for someone who can shoot the 3 well. Michaela has a really high IQ. Last year, she was a high-risk, high-reward player, not afraid to take chances. I think she probably learned about being a better decision maker. The great thing about Michaela is that she can be on the floor in a lot of different spots, the 1, the 2, the 3. Defensively, that's where I think she's worked the hardest. I see more focus, more intensity. She's capable of taking over the point."
Mabrey believes that she has the skills to emerge as Notre Dame's floor general. Junior-to-be Whitney Holloway and freshman Lindsay Allen are also expected to contend for the point guard job.
"I think people trust me more with the ball, people trust me that I can make the shots," Mabrey said. "That comes with being competitive. This year, with the loss of Skylar Diggins and how competitive she is, we've all picked it up. Our pick-up games have been extremely competitive, extremely, extremely competitive. It's going to be a great year, just based on the pick-up games.
"I've been working on my ball-handling skills, being able to handle the ball with all the confidence in the world that no one is going to take it from me. But I'll play whatever position Coach needs me to play. The 5 and the 4 might not be the best positions for me, but 1, 2 or 3, I feel confident, 100 percent, that I could play."