Top-25 basketball recruit Madeline Westbeld forging own path at Notre Dame

Madeline Westbeld, right, gave Muffet McGraw a bit of an assist when the Notre Dame coach recruited Kathryn Westbeld to South Bend. Years later, Madeline is looking forward to suiting up for the Fighting Irish. Courtesy of the Westbeld family

Madeline Westbeld has yet to play a game for Notre Dame, but she already has contributed one important assist to the Fighting Irish.

Years ago, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and then-assistant Niele Ivey (now with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies) made a trip to Kettering, Ohio, to do a home visit with Kathryn Westbeld, Madeline's older sister.

Everyone present gathered in the family room, where the coaches intended to show a video that highlighted Notre Dame's program. The video looked great on the family's 60-inch TV screen, but there was no audio.

This failure to launch led to some frustration and tension in the air.

"[McGraw] is a pretty intimidating woman even though she's pretty small," Madeline said.

Finally, after the adults tried for about 10 minutes to fix the sound problem, they asked Madeline -- who was all of 11 years old at the time -- for help.

"They were really depending on this video," Madeline said. "It's a super cool video. ... They were trying to figure it out, and I just messed around with it and touched a button, and it worked."

McGraw, obviously relieved, gave Madeline a big smile and a high-five -- and there appeared to be many more of those exchanges to come over the next few years.

That's because Madeline, now 17, committed to McGraw and Notre Dame on Oct. 17 after weighing the pros and cons of her other four finalists: Louisville, Ohio State, Tennessee and UCLA.

It was a happy day for the Irish because Westbeld, a 6-foot-3 forward at Fairmont in Kettering, is a five-star recruit and ranked the No. 23 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100. A varsity starter since her freshman year, she averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds as a junior last season.

"At power forward, Maddy is a nightmare matchup for the opposition," said Bryce McKey, her AAU coach with Sports City U. "Her 3-point shooting really came on this summer, and there were multiple games where she hit three or four of them.

"In the post, if she is one-on-one within five feet of the basket, she's going to score 80% of the time."

Primed for big things

Westbeld is being led by her third coach in four seasons at Fairmont. The first coach left for family reasons, Westbeld said, and the second departed due to a health issue.

But this will be Westbeld's second straight year under Jeremy Finn, who has brought some stability to the program.

Still, Westbeld has one more year left to match her sister, who entered Notre Dame after having won a state title and also earning McDonald's All American status.

Perhaps this will be the year for Madeline.

"Me and my teammates have been through so much," said Westbeld, who is interested in studying business in college and has thought about one day going to law school. "We've always had a lot of drama and chemistry issues.

"But this year is different. We have a different focus, and we have one goal [state]."

Finn, who coached boys' varsity basketball for seven years, has been impressed by Westbeld.

"I thought I was obsessed with basketball, but she takes it to another level. I've never seen someone who has the will to be the best she can be more than her." Kathryn Westbeld on younger sister Madeline

"She is easily the hardest worker I've coached on either the boys' side or girls'," said Finn, who returns four starters and one key reserve from a team that went 16-9 last season, losing in the district final to eventual state champ Mount Notre Dame.

"I've coached Division I kids before, but she's at a different level. She is self-motivated. I guess when you have a sister [Kathryn] who has had so much success, it motivates her to be even better."

Notre Dame fans would love for Madeline to be just as successful as Kathryn, a 6-foot-2 forward who is now playing pro ball in Puerto Rico.

Compared to Madeline, Kathryn had a very similar prep ranking -- No. 21 in the Class of 2014. Kathryn went on to help the Irish win a national title in 2018, starting 31 games that season as a senior.

Madeline, though, could turn out to be even better than her sister, and even Kathryn believes this.

"Every time I come home and see Maddy, she has grown another inch," Kathryn said of Madeline, who was listed at 6-foot-2 until getting measured again last month.

"I'm so amazed at how far she has come," Kathryn continued. "She is constantly in the gym. I thought I was obsessed with basketball, but she takes it to another level. I've never seen someone who has the will to be the best she can be more than her.

"I hate that people say she is following me. Yes, she's going to the same school. But she will create her own path and write her own story. With her work ethic, I believe she can be the best player in the country."

Madeline knows she has a strong work ethic too. She says she works out multiple times a day.

"Ever since the seventh grade," she said, "I started to push myself. I wanted to separate myself.

"Basketball is my escape. It's my obsession."

No longer fearful

Madeline's father, Jim -- a 6-foot-7 former high school football player -- was the one who took his daughter to her first rec-league basketball game.

She was 6 years old at the time -- and not exactly thrilled.

"I was scared to play," Madeline said. "When my dad told me that he was signing me up for basketball, my jaw dropped. I didn't know if I would be any good. There were just a lot of uncertainties.

"But it turned out that I was the tallest girl on the team, and I was pretty good."

That surely came as no surprise to her mother, Susan.

"If you want to raise leaders, let them lead," Susan said. "Madeline's the biggest leader in the family.

"She's the boss, and I mean that in a good way. She will tell me if I'm doing things wrong in raising [younger brother] Ben, and she's usually right. She's very direct. As my [late father, James Smith] used to say about her: 'She doesn't waste words.'"

Susan said Madeline was raised to be self-sufficient, and that was evident early in her childhood.

One time, a family member, Susan's brother-in-law, Brennen Kelly, watched in astonishment as 3-year-old Madeline poured herself a glass of milk. That the counter was taller than she was and that she had to hoist the gallon of milk above her head to get this done were but minor inconveniences.

Similarly, when she first started to travel to Notre Dame, tagging along on Kathryn's visits, Madeline made herself very much at home.

"We'd be in a conference room and Maddy would put her feet up on the table, eating candy," Kathryn said. "It was hilarious. She adored everything about my visits."

In fact, the running joke in the Westbeld household is that Madeline committed to Notre Dame before Kathryn did.

When Kathryn made her official visit to Notre Dame, Madeline witnessed the coaches trying to convince her sister to come to school in South Bend.

Madeline couldn't figure out why Kathryn didn't say "yes" right away.

"I told all the coaches, 'I'm coming here when I grow up,'" Madeline recalled. "They were like, 'Great, but can you make sure your sister comes too?'"

Years later, McGraw reminded Madeline of her earlier "commitment," and the coach ultimately sealed the deal.

"I loved all the schools I visited," Madeline said. "But Notre Dame is special to me."