Hannah Huffman pauses several minutes into a phone conversation concerning her good friend and teammate on the Notre Dame women’s basketball team. Huffman, who is a Fighting Irish junior guard, has just thought of something. “Wait, have you talked to Maddie yet?” she asks.
Taking that into account, Huffman offers some advice about Madison Cable, the ‘Maddie’ in question, followed by the slightest of chuckles. “Well, good luck. She does not like to talk about herself.”
Dale Cable, Maddie’s dad, will add later on: “I think her teammates and I have talked more about her in the past five years than she has. It’s sometimes like pulling teeth to get her to talk about herself.”
This is not to say that Cable is not vocal. Bring up the dogs, the two golden retrievers back home (she’s named one of them Sidney Oatmeal Cable), and the puppy, Donnie, currently taking South Bend by storm. Thanks to her lighter class load this semester, Cable has the time to take care of him. When she goes to practice, Donnie takes a nap. His Instagram account, which Cable orchestrates, is already blowing up. “It’s so much fun to get a little puppy. He’s getting really good,” says Cable.
“Maddie loves a lot of things, nothing more than that dog,” says Huffman, laughing.
As far as interviews go, it’s simply the way she is wired. Here is a player completely devoted to her team. In a sense, it follows that her focus would turn outward first. Says Huffman, “She can almost be too unselfish sometimes, but that just speaks to her personality. She’s all about the team.”
Dale hones in upon this point, too. “That’s just her—her focus is on the team and on winning. They go hand in hand. Her first question after a game has nothing to do with her. It’s, ‘How did the team do?'”
It’s what her first teammates at Notre Dame noted. Here was Skylar Diggins, ahead of Cable’s freshman season: “Maddie? She’s kind of the quiet one. But she’s actually really funny if you get to know her.”
“My personality, I like to have fun,” says Cable. “Be goofy, joke around. This team makes a lot of jokes, and it helps with the atmosphere. But when it comes time to play, I’m serious.”
Maddie being Maddie. The subtle sense of humor setting a room aglow. “Maddie was my roommate, my first summer here,” says Huffman. “Right away, she was very outgoing. Jokes, goofy…that’s the best way to describe her. She puts herself out to be made fun of. These last couple of years, you see the confidence she’s gained. She feels she can bring more of that goofy side out.”
Adds Dale, “She’s quiet until she gets to know people. She’s careful with what she says. But after that, she does have that subtle humor, and it does sneak up on people.”
At tip-off, you might notice Cable sitting on the bench next to Huffman and Whitney Holloway. Cable calls it a ritual. “It’s always been like that,” says Huffman. “It’s not so much good luck, but we’re just talking about what’s going on. We talk over the scout. Then, we’ll make little jokes. We’re still engaged, but it helps keep us loose.”
Cable grew up in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb seven miles south of Pittsburgh, and there’s a ruggedness revealed from the moment she checks into games, usually around the first media timeout. Immediately, you see the grit. The uncanny nose for contact—Polamalu jumping a passing lane.
“I think Maddie’s very versatile, but very easy to underestimate,” says Huffman. “Some teams scout her and think she’ll just shoot threes when she comes in, but she does so many things that don’t go on a stat sheet. For a smaller guard, she’s a great offensive rebounder. She’s a fantastic shooter. But it’s her intangibles that set her apart. That jumping ability, the great reach. Out of everyone on this team, she has the best nose for the ball. You watch her and wonder, ‘How did she know the ball would go there?'”
Notre Dame has long been known for the selflessness pervading its program, and few embody the ethos more fully than Cable. When a teammate goes flying out of bounds in pursuit of a loose ball, she is on hand to pick her up and give a hearty high-five.
“She is the consummate team player,” says Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw, who hails Cable as one of the team’s unsung heroes. “She doesn’t care if she starts or if she comes off the bench, if she plays three or 30 minutes. She just wants to win. That’s all she’s ever cared about.”
McGraw continues. “The best teams that we’ve had at Notre Dame, we’ve had that sixth man that’s so versatile, who’s given us whatever we needed. You get a list when Maddie checks into the game: defense, scoring included. A lot of teams aren’t as good when they go to the bench. Sometimes, I think we look better.”
There are the steals and “almost-steals.” All those deflections she causes. One of which, in the second half of a convincing win against No. 8 Louisville this past Monday, saw Cable jump a passing lane, as is her wont. She got a hand to deviate the path of the ball, and it caromed off the leg of Cardinals guard Jude Schimmel and out of bounds.
Notre Dame ball.
“I just try to bring energy and encourage other people to do the same,” says Cable. “Whether it’s in practice or a game. When other people catch on, everyone else gets better.”
She began playing because of her sisters. Kassie and Jourdan were six and four years older, respectively, and Cable was a constant at their practices and games, roaming the sidelines, shooting. When she wasn’t shooting, she watched. “I liked it,” Cable says. “I just kept going with it.”
“One time, when I was in sixth grade, our dad was our coach, and he told my team that we weren’t allowed to shoot threes. We weren’t strong enough yet,” says Jourdan, who remembers looking off to the side to see her little sister calmly swishing treys. “I asked my dad about her, and he says, ‘Oh no, she can shoot them!'”
“I remember Christmas, when she was in first grade,” says Dale. “It was so cold. We were all waiting for Christmas dinner. But Maddie had gotten a basketball, and she wouldn’t come in until she’d made five in a row from the three spots she’d picked. She was shooting on a 10-foot hoop, with a regulation-size ball. She’s so competitive, and she’s always been like that.”
Dale coached Kassie and Jourdan on school and club teams from fourth to eighth grade. He alternated coaching Cable through those years with a close friend, who had a daughter in the same grade.
Skill development was paramount. Dale made sure his daughters developed the correct shooting motion and skill set to match. To that strong base, Cable coupled her unbridled intensity. “150 percent,” is how Dale describes her effort.
Jourdan remembers heated games in the backyard, sister vs. sister, and the moment the tables turned. Maddie, now a high schooler, began blocking Jourdan’s shots. “It was a wake up call,” Jourdan says. “My little sister wasn’t so little anymore.”
Cable became a coveted prospect, and recruiting became hectic, the Cables inundated with letters and phone calls. Noise, noise, noise. Dale vividly remembers the final stages, when Cable was close to picking a school. She’d narrowed her list to five, and the big questions were surfacing. Where do I want to go? What am I looking for?
Notre Dame had some serious cards in its favor. Prestigious academic reputation, for one. Then came the definitive discussion, with the Cables nestled around their kitchen table. Cable’s high school coach, Dori Oldaker, was there too, and Dale remembers her asking the question that tipped the scales. How big is the factor of playing for a national championship each year?
At Mt. Lebanon, Cable had played in four state championship games, in the highest Pennsylvania prep classification, and taken home top prize three times. The Blue Devils went undefeated her sophomore year. She’d helped compile a 114-14 overall record. There was a challenge in pursuing that level of excellence. Cable’s kind of challenge. South Bend it would be.
“For the past seven years, she doesn’t know anything but being in a finals setting,” says Dale, referencing Notre Dame’s tremendous run in recent years. National championship appearances in ’11, ’12 and ’14, a Final Four in ’13. Then Dale adds, in reference to this year for Maddie: “Hope I don’t jinx it.”
The Fighting Irish are currently ranked fourth in the country, 26-2 heading into Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh. Dale sees a purpose in the play, different from many other teams. “They have certain kids, like Jewell [Loyd] and Brianna [Turner] who do most of the scoring, but it’s never a one-on-one show. They share the ball, they get good shots. That’s engrained, and that style fits the type of kids brought here, Maddie included,” he says.
“Coach McGraw focuses upon defense, playing hard, and playing as a team,” says Oldaker. “Maddie thrives in that type of environment.”
“She leads the team in steals. She’s shooting the ball extremely well (47 percent from three, also leading the Irish),” McGraw says of Cable this season, before citing, like Huffman, the intangibles that set the senior apart. “It’s the little hustle plays. She’ll take a big charge, dive after a loose ball. There’s just so many things.”
For the eight weeks Cable was home this summer, she put up at least 500 shots a day with Dale, five times a week. “She’s self-motivated,” says Dale. “Rah-rah motivation doesn’t really work for her. She doesn’t scream and yell. Her leadership is by example.”
Everyone who knows Cable returns the descriptor. Maddie being Maddie. It often prefaces some really good stories.
There was the game Cable’s junior year in high school, when Mt. Lebanon traveled to the T-Mobile Classic in Alabama over Christmas break. Faced prep power St. Mary’s (CA) High on national TV.
As Oldaker recalls, “There were two broadcasters at the scorer’s table for that game. Now, for some reason, Maddie has always called me her mom—jokingly, of course. She’s got a wonderful mother. But she’d be like ‘Hey Mom,’ on the bench, and Carl (Satira), my assistant, she’d call him Dad. She was doing it during this game, and the commentators turned to me and asked, ‘Are you her mom?’ It was just so natural. You gotta love her. There’s just nothing not to love about that kid.”
The Georgetown game, her sophomore season in South Bend. Midway through the first half, Cable double-teamed Hoyas center Vanessa Moore in the post. “[Moore] swung her elbow, caught Maddie across the jaw, and she got bloodied up,” Dale says of the foul, which was called a technical. “They checked [Maddie] out, got the blood controlled. Because of the blood, she couldn’t shoot her foul shots. But she wanted to shoot them.”
Jourdan remembers a picture popping up on her phone afterward. There was Maddie with a chipped tooth, beaming. “She has this grit. It’s crazy how many times she ends up on the floor,” says Jourdan. “When she was younger, it was the same thing. She loved getting bruises during games. Black eyes? Yeah. She’s not afraid to get into it.”
“Just Maddie being Maddie,” says Huffman. “She has no fear putting her body on the line.”
It’s sometimes easy to forget about the profound levels of skill. In addition to the picture-perfect form and range extending past three, there are these layups. The one on the road last Thursday against Georgia Tech. Notre Dame, nursing a one-point lead with 8 minutes to go. Fighting Irish guard Lindsay Allen misses a mid-range jumper way short. Cable, unchecked, glides in from the right baseline and, in one sweeping motion, converts an acrobatic, up-and-under reverse tip-in of a layup. It was one of 11 rebounds and two of the nine points she provided in the 71-61 win.
When I recall this to Dale and Jourdan, they finish off the play for me. “That was pretty,” says Jourdan. “At that level, every player has smarts, but Maddie’s knowledge is excellent. She could tell you every detail about a play that happened in high school. I’ll have no idea what she’s talking about, but she remembers it like it was yesterday. She just sees the game really well.”
“She has the ‘it’ factor,” says Oldaker. “She has that will-to-win, hate-to-lose you love in a player.”
This week, the family converges upon South Bend. Jourdan arrives on Wednesday. Dale was already out there this past weekend, and he got to see Cable help the Irish to that 68-52 win over Louisville, Notre Dame’s 12th win in a row.
It had all the makings of a classic Cable performance. Within minutes of checking in, she’d cycled through defending a 6-2 forward and two guards listed at 5-10 and 5-6. On her first defensive possession, she forced that 6-2 forward into a tough miss. The next time down the court, Cable dove to the floor to save a loose ball for Loyd.
Then came a steal, a burst of pace upcourt, and a hard-nosed finish to cap an 8-0 run that put Notre Dame up 17-14. Louisville called timeout. Cable, who’d gone tumbling to the floor, got up and headed back to the bench. But not before doling out a few high-fives, smiling that smile.
She missed the ’11-12 season, her true freshman campaign, due to stress fractures in both feet. Notre Dame does not use “redshirt” in its athletic classifications, so Cable, despite her senior academic standing, would be eligible to play in ’15-16.
Which means more winning plays. Opponents can’t wait.
Image courtesy of Stephen Treacy