Husker Legend Maurtice Ivy: Rare Athlete That Transcends the Ages
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It's been almost a quarter century since Maurtice Ivy led Nebraska to its only Big Eight Conference basketball championship and its first NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament appearance - team achievements that enabled her to become the league's Player of the Year at the same time she earned a third consecutive first-team All-Big Eight honor.
The year when all that jazz happened? It was 1988, and a certain retired Omaha sportswriter remembers that team and its superstar as if were yesterday.
And truth be told, that sportswriter, now in his fourth season as a Nebraska women's basketball season ticketholder, shed a tear or two when Athletic Director Tom Osborne and National Coach of the Year Connie Yori formally retired Ivy's No. 30 jersey minutes before the Huskers' 75-61 overtime win over Kansas Sunday afternoon.
"You keep hearing that the athletes of yesteryear can't play with today's players," Larry Porter said after finding Ivy at halftime and giving her a bear hug of congratulations.
Porter insists that Ivy is a rare exception to that kind of thinking.
"If you take any athlete from that era and put her back on the court to see how she would compete today, I would almost guarantee that Maurtice Ivy would still be an All-Big 12 player," Porter said.
Greatness: Grace, Height, Speed, Jumping Ability
"Anyone who watched her play knows why she was special," Porter added. "I remember her grace, her height, her speed and her jumping ability. She moved like a 5-4 guard, but was five inches taller. She could shoot like Jabbar inside, yet go outside and hit the jumper. She could rebound. She could block shots. She had so much talent and so much energy. She is truly an athlete that transcends the ages."
In presenting a framed No. 30 jersey and a bouquet of flowers during Ivy's on-court ceremony, both Osborne and Yori reminisced about her career, her talent and the reasons why Nebraska's second all-time leading scorer now joins the Huskers' all-time leading scorer, Karen Jennings, as the only two Huskers to have their jerseys retired.
Sunday's crowd of 5,693 saw history go up when the lights went down at the Devaney. Everyone in the house saw the spotlight point to the fifth Husker basketball jersey retired. The other four are Stuart Lantz's No. 22, Dave Hoppen's No. 42, Jennings' No. 51 and Eric Piatkowski's No. 52.
Interestingly, Yori could relate personally because she watched Ivy play as a senior at Omaha Central High School and then played against her when Ivy was a Husker and she was a Creighton Bluejay.
"I knew how talented she was and what she accomplished at Nebraska," Yori said, adding that retiring her jersey was not only "a well-deserved honor, but a long overdue honor" from her alma mater.
Osborne also remembered watching Ivy compete as a Husker when he was "trying to win some games" as Nebraska's head football coach and said he always admired her ability.
Ivy was a busy woman Sunday, joining the Huskers as a guest coach and soaking in the Devaney Center atmosphere with those who are closest to her - her father, two younger sisters, some cousins and a former Husker assistant coach who is now an associate athletic director at Kansas.
In her fourth year as head basketball coach at NAIA Peru (Neb.) State College, Ivy addressed the Husker team before the game. She sat on the bench during the game, was interviewed at halftime by Fox Sports and walked off the court wearing her trademark ear-to-ear smile.
Ivy's Peru State Team Enjoyed the Experience
The best decision Ivy made about the jersey ceremony was sharing the special day with her entire Peru State team, so her players could glean something from the experience as well. "I'm a teacher," she said, "and I wanted them to learn from this, too."
Mission accomplished, according to Peru State's two captains.
"It was amazing to be a part of her history-making day at Nebraska," said Nyahok Duop, a senior forward from Des Moines. "For us to be here and watch her jersey hang up there for everyone to see meant a lot to us because she loves us all and inspires us all. And we love her because of the way she has our back - as players on the court and as individuals off the court. She's always there for us, and it was an honor for us to be there for her today."
Katie Potter, a sophomore point guard and fellow Peru State captain from Omaha Burke, can only imagine what Ivy brought to the court 23 years ago. "We've had a couple of ACL injuries on our team, so there are times when she (Ivy) comes on the court, and we guard each other in practice," Potter said. "She still works really hard, and, yes, she can still hit the jumper."
Would you expect anything less from a player that transcends the ages and was considered a pioneer for both Nebraska girls' basketball and NU women's basketball? In high school, Ivy was a Parade All-American, scoring nearly 2,000 points for Omaha Central. At Nebraska, she became the first player to reach the 2,000-point plateau, averaging 14 points a game as a freshman, 19.7 as a sophomore, 23.6 as a junior and 19.1 as a senior.
Add all that up, and Ivy ranked second in Nebraska career scoring with 2,131 points and a 19.2 points-per-game average. "I didn't do that by myself," she said. "I had a lot of help. We were a championship team."
Her New Goal: Keep Getting Better as a Coach
Maurtice Ivy appreciated Sunday's look back at her playing career, but she's more focused now on becoming a better coach. She spent three years as an assistant at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before becoming head coach at a school that required 22 road games in her first season.
"It hasn't been easy, but I'm learning, and I feel blessed," she said. "Two months ago, I asked Teresa Becker if she would be my mentor, and she graciously agreed to do that."
A former Nebraska assistant coach when Ivy played for the Huskers, Becker is now the Associate Athletic Director for Compliance at Kansas. At the urging of Yori, Becker joined Ivy and others at center court for pictures on this historic day.
"I've learned a lot and still have a lot to learn," Ivy said. "I'm passionate, and I'm becoming more patient. Being around Coach Yori this weekend was a great experience. She does a terrific job, and it was really interesting to see how her staff prepares the team so hard and yet keeps the environment so relaxed."
Coaching at a school that draws only 200 fans a game, Ivy knows why Nebraska was special when she played there and is still special now. "The fan support at Nebraska is incredible," she said, "and the reception I've had coming back here is really heart-warming."
Last summer, when Yori called to explain the plan to retire her jersey, Ivy was speechless. "I was at a complete loss for words," she recalled. "It's been a great experience though. Some of the best fans in the country made it great."
Ivy's Parents and Sisters Are Always on Her Mind
Ivy's parents have been married for 49 years, but her mother couldn't make it to Sunday's ceremony after having surgery for a knee replacement a week ago. "She couldn't be here, but she dressed me," Maurtice said, pointing proudly to a wardrobe that her mom would have worn.
Her two younger sisters - Nebraska track and field Hall-of-Famer Mallery and Dychelle, who works in health care in Omaha, were both at the Devaney Center on Sunday.
Mallery came from Duluth, Ga., where she coaches prep girls track and youth club track. She's also an interior designer, working on her master's degree in counseling and thinking about dabbling in the catering business. "I've learned how to work hard from my big sister," she said. "She may be extremely competitive, but she has a big heart, and she'll help anybody."
That, of course, includes her parents. "I want to do something special for their 50th wedding anniversary next year," Maurtice said. "They've become big tennis fans, so I'd like to send them to the French Open."
The thought begs a question. Would an athlete that transcends the ages send her parents to Paris alone?
"I don't know," Ivy replied. "Really, they deserve that kind of trip for just the two of them. But you're right. I'd like to go, too."