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Inside the rise of Notre Dame WBB incoming transfer forward Liatu King

Notre  Dame women's basketball coach Niele Ivey (left) looks on as incoming transfer Liatu King acclimates to her new team and surroundings.
Notre Dame women's basketball coach Niele Ivey (left) looks on as incoming transfer Liatu King acclimates to her new team and surroundings. (Notre Dame Athletics photo)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The turning point came for Liatu King long before she had to make a transfer portal-offramp decision this spring between emerging favorites Syracuse and Notre Dame.

In a life filled with pivotal moments in which the 22-year-old Irish women’s basketball import pushed herself to walk through a wall of fear.

And none of them were more imposing than as a middle schooler — and one who played linebacker, at that, for the school’s football team — in making a choice to leave her desolate southeast Washington, D.C. neighborhood and brave an excursion way out of her comfort zone.

“I went to a middle school, which is not the best middle school,” the 6-foot grad transfer forward from Pitt told Inside ND Sports. “Just a lot of people there, to be honest with you, end up being statistics.”

Without basketball, King is convinced she would have been one too.



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But even that she had to be convinced to play, not sure that she would even be good at it and even less sold that the team would be any good. But a teacher/coach who King now calls her Godmom, Kaitlyn Vaughn, not only coaxed King onto the team, Vaughn helped reframe King’s future. She did so by convincing her not to go to nearby public school Anacostia when time came to matriculate to high school, but to explore and pursue other options.

Which eventually put King on a long, winding path to Notre Dame.

It started with three bus rides and two stops on a train each way, each school day as King enrolled in high school, and yet it wasn’t close to being the hardest part of being at Bishop McNamara High in Forestville, Md.

Rather, it was the unknown.

“I was just so terrified of being different from my peers and leaving my childhood friends,” King said. “It was just going to a private Catholic school I knew nothing about. Going to a school in Maryland I knew nothing about. Again, I’m 14, 15 years old. I’m not trying to do all that.

“Honestly it’s a surreal moment, because if it wasn’t for those people in my corner pushing me to be somebody, to be OK with the unknown and not being scared to take a leap of faith, I don’t know where I would be.


What’s very clear to her and her new Notre Dame teammates in less than a month on ND’s campus is that the reigning ACC Most Improved Player and the second Pitt women’s basketball player ever to earn All-ACC first-team honors is home.

Home in the sense she has found kindred spirits who revealed their own toughness in different ways last season on an injury-depleted roster, but authentically nonetheless.

Home in that she may be a found puzzle piece that helps nudge a team that stalled in the NCAA Sweet 16 the past three years back to the Final Four next spring for the first time since 2019.

The Irish were ranked No. 4 in ESPN’s Way-To-Early Top 25 for 2024-25 before King and Marquette grad transfer forward Liza Karlen committed to join first-team All-American Hannah Hidalgo and three others starters from a 28-7 team that captured the ACC Tournament title.


Fifth-year head coach Niele Ivey also brought in five-star center Kate Koval from national prep power Long Island (N.Y.) Lutheran and recoups notably 2023 All-America guard Olivia Miles and Canada Olympian Cass Prosper from long-term injuries.

“Everyone is so bought into the program and just trying to make the team better than it was last year,” said King, who averaged a double-double (18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds) last season for a Pitt team that won fewer games over the entire season (8) than what the Irish were able to string together consecutively (10) from mid-February until their elimination by Oregon State in the NCAA Tournament.

“Just taking strides in the right direction, and I can already see that from the summer workouts. We do everything with intent, and that’s really what I wanted when I first entered the portal. That was what I was looking for in a team.

“And Notre Dame — the team, the coaches — have shown me that every single day. They’re so intentional and so purposeful and just the coaches are so bought into everything with development. Even off the court. Everything isn’t even about playing basketball. They’re there for you off the court as well.”

So is a past that still drives and inspires King, particularly her single mom Patricia Opurum, who worked two jobs when King was growing up so she and younger sister Precious would have a chance to earn their dreams.

“If there’s anything we need, even now, she’ll bend over backwards for it, because that’s just the type of person she is,” King said. “She never asks or looks for handouts, because that’s not how she was raised. Me and my sister are her two most prized possessions. And so, she’s willing to do anything for us.”

And yet Liatu had to grow up fast, because Opurum is deaf and needed a connection to the hearing world.

“I was kind of that middle man,” King said. “Had to be the translator and interpreter in spaces like the doctor’s office, the grocery store — things that we just take for granted as hearing people. So, doing that at an early age matured me as a kid.

“I sign when I’m home, obviously. And I learned sign language when I was 9 months old. My mom taught me and my sister. I think it’s a good skill to have, and I’m happy that what I went through and all the experiences that I have had as a young kid isn’t as prevalent now because of technology and stuff.

“Like at the doctor’s office now, they might have a little computer that they can roll in, and it interprets on the spot. And so, I think for younger kids not to have such a burden — not to say it’s a burden, but it’s such a huge responsibility as 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds trying to communicate with the doctor who’s saying such important things.

“You don’t want to miss out, and you don’t want your parent to be missing out on important facts. So, that’s kind of what it was for me growing up.”

Father David King was intermittently part of that youth after Liatu’s parents divorced long before she ever picked up a basketball. Also deaf, David had recently moved to Birmingham, Ala., and was a line cook there until he died suddenly in April at age 53.

“Everything happens for a reason for me to be where I’m at now,” Liatu reflected.

Her pattern of turning challenge into triumph certainly backs up that notion. Not only was Bishop McNamara life-changing for King, but King elevated a program that hadn’t won a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title since 2008 to one that captured it during her senior high season there 12 years later.

A trip to a national high school showcase McNamara earned was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet while King was at Bishop McNamara, while merely a three-star prospect, she was good enough to earn a roster spot on the Team Takeover AAU team that featured current WNBA rookie star Angel Reese, who is from Baltimore.

And that in turn got King noticed by college coaches.

All the while excelling in the classroom, which she also did at Pitt routinely while earning her degree this spring in her double major of Supply Chain Management and Business Information Systems.

“It’s funny,” she said. “I had no intentions of playing basketball when I got to middle school and was asked to, but I’m so grateful that I did, because the bonds that I made then are bonds of a lifetime.”

And King learned not only to dream, but how to put them into motion.

Doing that at Notre Dame is the next chapter.“I took a visit to Syracuse, and I really liked their program,” King said of her transfer-portal experience. “I liked what they were about. I also liked the head coach. And when it comes down to it, I’m a big pros-and-cons type of girlie. Like, I like making lists and just seeing my options.

“When it came down to it, it was hard. Like it was kind of even, I want to say, between the two schools. And at the end of the day, I just kind of went with my gut. My gut told me this was the place for me, and I went with that.”

And took another leap of faith.

Notre Dame women's basketball roster for 2024-25
Player Position Height Class

Liza Karlen



Grad Senior

Liatu King



Grad Senior

Kylee Watson



Grad Senior

Maddy Westbeld



Grad Senior

Sarah Cernugel



Grad Senior

Sonia Citron




Olivia Miles




KK Bransford




Cassandre Prosper




Hannah Hidalgo




Emma Risch




Kate Koval





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