The Clemson Tigers needed a point guard. Little did they know it was two phone calls away.
Head coach Amanda Butler went to all the normal channels to try to find someone that would fill the role on the Tigers' women's team for 2023-24. She scoured high schools to see if any unsigned playmakers were left in the senior class. She took a look in the transfer portal. She reached out to some possible targets to begin the recruitment process.
"We were looking to try to fill that spot with a lot of depth and experience," she said. "All the things that you want in point guards."
Butler was taking a postseason break from the grind, when her phone rang while she was on vacation—the first of the two phone calls that ended up solving her point guard dilemma. It was Danielle Rauch, a graduate assistant on her staff who had started her coaching career with the team the previous season.
"Hey, so I know you need a point guard," Rauch said. "What about me?"
"I was like, 'Hold on,'" Butler recalls. "I was at the beach. I was like, 'Hold on. What's going on right now?'"
Once she established what her assistant was offering, Butler had another reaction.
"She said, 'Well, that's pretty bold of you to say,'" Rauch said.
Rauch had joined Clemson after playing four years at Michigan. In 2021-22, her senior year, she started all 32 games, helping lead the Wolverines to the Elite Eight as a team captain.
Because of the NCAA's COVID rule, Rauch was allowed a fifth year of eligibility, but she passed on it to get her coaching career started.
Rauch, who has a successful podcast where she interviews top personalities in the college basketball world, has said, "I closed that chapter in my life. I felt like it was a good time to move on."
She knew she wanted to be a coach. Rauch recalls people cautioning her that coaching would always be there, but she was ready for her first job and signed on with Butler and Clemson.
"She thought her playing days were over," Butler said. "She spent a year with us, but she still had the itch."
In a video on Clemson's website, Rauch recalled her emotions during her rookie year as a coach. "Throughout the season, I had this looming 'If I could have one more year of college basketball, I know what I would do.' And here I am sitting here with an extra year, saying, 'No, I don't want to use it.'"
"I felt unfilled," Rauch said. "Then March came around and I went to the Final Four as a coach."
After coming one game short of playing in the Final Four as a senior, the moment helped make up Rauch's mind. She wanted to use her year. If the season she spent as a graduate assistant counted as a redshirt year, she might just be able to.
From her beach chair, Butler began thinking the same thing.
"Let's figure it out," she told Rauch.
That required some help.
"We had more conversations," Butler said. "More hoops we had to jump through. We had to make sure with compliance (that it was legal)."
Compliance checked with the NCAA and came back with good news.
"There was nothing saying, 'No, that can't happen,'" Rauch recalled.
Nothing saying it at the time, anyway.
"As of July 1, the NCAA changed the rule, and it's no longer allowed," she said on a podcast episode. "I'm like the last person to do it. My friends joked that it should be called the Rauch Rule."
While Rauch was permitted to do it, legally, her comeback still wasn't a done deal. There was one more approval left to obtain.
"It was a decision she didn't come to lightly," Butler said, "but it wasn't a decision that was only hers. I told her, 'This isn't a one or two-person decision. We have to talk to the team and make sure they're comfortable with the decision.'"
Then came the second phone call.
Amari Robinson was sitting at home. A four-year starter for Clemson, Robinson is using her COVID year this season to return to the Tigers for a fifth go-round.
"That was definitely a shocker, getting that call" Robinson said.
"Hey Mar," Butler said to her leading scorer and rebounder.
"It's 9:00 at night," Robinson replied. "What do you want, Coach Butler?"
"So, Danielle wants to play," the coach said.
After a pause, Robinson asked, "Danielle who? Who are we talking about, here?"
Butler ran through the scenario, telling Robinson, "This is weird. This doesn't happen. This is not typical. How do we feel about this?"
It didn't take long to get back an answer from the returning Clemson players.
"We all loved it," Butler said. "We still love it."
"It's great she's on our team," Robinson said. "She has a lot of experience, and she played where we want to go—the NCAA Tournament."
Rauch is also ... literally ... a coach on the floor.
"She's been on the sideline," Robinson said. "She knows what our coaches think."
Rauch is also seizing the second chance she thought had eluded her.
"She's got great energy," Robinson said. "She's always looking to get better, trying to find ways to get back to being a player and being on that level again. ... She'll run through a drill at practice and then say, 'We need one more rep. Five more minutes.'"
"She's a worker," Butler said. "She's a great leader ... Ultimately, you have people that really appreciate the intangibles and the tangibles that Danielle brings. She makes us better. It's kind of weird, but it's a no-brainer. She makes us better."
"Most of all," Butler added, "I think just realizing that she had more ball to play."
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