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‘Super bizarre’: Alli Campbell explains weird situation at Notre Dame, the lack of communication and why she chose PSU

Photo from Alli Campbell Twitter

Alli Campbell went to Notre Dame as the No. 25 recruit in the nation. She played 28 minutes in her college debut and scored four points. Then she played 28 minutes in her second game and scored eight points.

After that, Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey buried Campbell on the bench. The talented freshman, who scored more than 3,000 points in high school and won two PIAA state titles at Bellwood-Antis, played a TOTAL of 17 minutes the rest of the season (in 18 games) and scored just one point.

It was no surprise, given what happened, that Campbell entered the transfer portal. And she decided to return close to home, committing to Penn State and coach Carolyn Kieger.

But what exactly did happen at Notre Dame? How does such a prized recruit get essentially forgotten by a coach? Notre Dame finished just 10-10, a down season for the perennial power, and Campbell was not injured.

She just never got to play.

Ivey never let her play. On a team that struggled.

“It was super bizarre,” Campbell said.

Campbell joined “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on Thursday to discuss the situation at Notre Dame, why she chose Penn State and several other topics.

You can listen to the entire interview below, and we’ve pulled out some of the notable elements for a Q&A.

 

Q: After your strong start, what happened at Notre Dame?

A: “I can definitely tell you, I was feeling great after those first two games. And honestly, I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened. Nothing changed on my end. There was very little communication about that whole situation, actually, so I don’t know. I continued to work hard. Even after Christmas break, I came back out and I was playing even better, honestly. I was competing better than I was before. And I don’t know what happened.

“I felt like I earned the opportunity (to play more) in practice, but I felt like I wasn’t given that opportunity as the season went on. Some more kids came back from being injured after the first two games. But again, it was Coach Ivey’s program, I couldn’t question her decision. I wasn’t OK with my role, but I had to accept it. That didn’t change my work ethic, my mentality at all. I actually got stronger this past year. But again, I couldn’t tell you. I really didn’t understand the whole thing, the whole situation.”

Q: No injury at all?

A: “No. No injury. Nope.”

Q: Did something else happen in practice or anything? Was there any sign you thought, ‘This is gonna be trouble?’

A: “No. I honestly can tell you there was nothing that happened in practice, with the team, with the coaches. Nothing like that. I continued to work hard. I was just trying to get better to get another opportunity, and it didn’t come like I thought it would.”

Q: Was there an open-door policy with Coach Ivey, or did you or your parents have an opportunity to talk with her about everything? Or was it more of like just a business type of situation?

A: “My parents actually didn’t talk to her about anything at all. I had very few conversations about like anything specifically. It’s pretty business like with Coach Ivey. But I know that’s not the case with all the coaches across the country.

“I already know that Coach Kieger’s philosophy, it’s open-door philosophy, like come talk to her any time. So I know that I’m gonna be able to build that great relationship with Coach Kieger.

“But it was pretty business like (at Notre Dame). Not too much communication. I feel like there should have been a lot more, probably on both ends.”

Q: Do you feel like you could have done anything differently? If you would have gone out and said something or made a bigger deal out of it, could that have changed the dynamic?

A: “I feel like I could have maybe ignited a few more conversations. Again, I don’t know if that would have changed anything, but I probably could have said some things, asked some more questions than I did. But I reached a point where I felt like no matter what I did in practice, out of practice, I feel like it wasn’t gonna change for some reason.

“So I was to the point where I was just mentally trying to get better, work on my game, get mentally stronger and just figure out how to move on and move forward. I just didn’t feel like it was worth it at a certain point.”

Q: How bizarre is it in your mind that you were a top 25 recruit and got off to a good start and then had to deal with what happened of not playing anymore?

A: “It was super bizarre, especially after getting how many minutes I did the first two games. I was like, yeah, this is gonna be great, I’m playing great minutes. Even if I got a little bit less than what I did, I would be perfectly fine with that, I’ll work my way and earn more. But honestly, I was shocked. I tried to stay as mentally strong and positive as I could throughout the year, but it just didn’t get any better.

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“Believe me, it is super bizarre. And I wasn’t expecting that to happen. And again, there wasn’t any type of communication, so I didn’t know what was going on.

“I’m just looking forward to having that opportunity to prove myself again, because I know I can compete at the highest level, and I confidently know that I can, so I’m looking forward to what’s to come and being able to prove myself again.

Q: What led to your decision to come to Penn State? Was it what the program is building, coming back home or a combination of things?

A: “For sure a combination of all of that. What Coach Kieger is doing is amazing. She’s already turning this program around, and I knew she was going to, just what she’s done at her previous schools, especially Marquette. She has been amazing. The first time I got on the phone with them, they really blew me away, just their vision for the program, their vision for me. So definitely Coach Kieger and the staff, I loved them right away.

“There was always a piece of me that loved Penn State, and I always (thought) it would be really cool to play there, my home school, play in front of my family and friends, and just being closer to family. Being away for eight months, I really didn’t get to see any friends or my family much. … I really missed that aspect of. My younger sister, she’s picking up her basketball career, so I’m gonna be able to watch her play. So just a combination of everything, it’s really the perfect fit. And I’ve always loved Penn State.”

Q: Coming to Penn State, what do you think your role will be? What is Coach Kieger’s expectation for you, and what is your expectation?

A: “I have high expectations for myself, and so does Coach Kieger. She wants me to come in right away and compete for a spot and earn my time and really make some things happen. She’s confident in me, and I’m confident in myself.”

Q: For everybody who watched you in high school, how different is college basketball, and what did you learn about yourself with what it takes to compete?

A: “College basketball is just a whole other level, especially at the high DI level. You play in high school and think you’re really good, then you go out there and everyone is just as good as me, if not better. Quicker, faster, stronger.

“I’m working on myself right now, getting a higher vertical, getting quicker, stronger. I can always improve on that. But the game is just a lot faster. It’s so much fun. The speed is so different, and you can’t take a possession off at all or you’re gonna be left behind. And you’ve got to put work in every single day if you even want to compete out there. It’s another level. It’s intense and tough, but it’s all worth it.”

Giger’s take

This whole ordeal is, as Campbell said, just super bizarre.

I cannot imagine a top 25 national recruit getting benched for no good reason and basically never seeing the court — after playing 28 minutes in the first two games!

From afar — and there’s no way to know this for sure — this whole thing seems like Niele Ivey just didn’t want Campbell on the team at Notre Dame, froze her out, played mind games with her and did it all knowing that there was a strong likelihood it would force the young lady to leave.

Why would a coach do all that? Who knows?

Maybe Ivey just didn’t think Campbell was good enough. Maybe she wanted the scholarship back to give to another recruit.

Sure, this will seem biased toward Campbell because she was a local star, and many of us here in her home region are very fond of her.

But c’mon, Campbell also was an outstanding recruit. I cannot imagine any similar type of situation taking place in men’s college basketball — where a coach would get a top 25 recruit and just bench him for no reason at all. Sure, if the player was a troublemaker or got hurt, then yeah, playing time can be tough to come by.

But the lack of communication by Ivey to Campbell in this situation is appalling.

Talk to the young lady. Tell her what’s expected. Don’t play mind games and completely forget about a kid who played 28 minutes in the first two games of your season and did well.

That’s how coaches can destroy a young player’s confidence, and at the very least, Ivey is guilty of that.

Alli Campbell deserved better.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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