He kept working on his game, kept developing and then sharpening the tools needed to become a big-time Division I college basketball prospect before his high school days wind down a couple years down the road.
As he kept working, more high-major schools kept tracking South Bend Saint Joseph small forward JR Konieczny. Schools from the Big East showed interest. The Big Ten came calling. So did the Atlantic Coast Conference. That was big.
Konieczny never said much about the recruiting process, one that won’t have him sign his official letter of intent for another 15 months. Deep down, though, he and his family knew that if one specific school showed serious interest, it would be a matter of time until his recruitment came to a quick conclusion.
It would be over like that.
It was over like that Sunday afternoon when the 6-foot-7, 195-pound junior verbally committed to Notre Dame, a school whose campus sits one mile up the road from his current one.
Messages left for Konieczny on his cell phone and social media were not returned before Tribune press time.
“This is an honor, for Notre Dame to say we’ve got somebody in our backyard that we think is just as good as somebody from any high school in America,” said Indians coach Mark Johnson. “That’s special.”
Having averaged 23.7 points as a sophomore, Konieczny will be the first player from the Northern Indiana Conference to sign with Notre Dame since former Marian point guard Demetrius Jackson and former Penn forward Austin Torres tag-teamed to do so in the fall of 2012. He’ll be the first Saint Joseph kid to play at Notre Dame since former captain Pete Miller, who originally joined the basketball program as a walk-on in 1993.
Getting a commitment from a player before the start of his junior year of high school has been rare for Notre Dame. Former Irish guards V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia committed in the fall of their junior years back in 2011. Heck, getting any player to commit has been rare for the Irish coaching staff of late.
Konieczny’s commitment snaps an extended commitment dry spell for the Irish. Notre Dame last received a commitment from a high school player on Nov. 13, 2017, when sophomore power forward Chris Doherty offered his verbal days after his official visit. That’s 643 days between commitments.
Notre Dame does not have an incoming freshman on this year’s roster and does not yet have a commitment from a current high school senior.
Considered a four-star prospect by 247Sports.com (No. 135 overall) and three stars by Rivals.com (unranked), Konieczny might be nearby, but won’t be on campus as a member of the program until the summer of 2021.
Konieczny made a serious jump on to the Irish radar for real back in December when coach Mike Brey was looking at former Marian standout Jaden Ivey, who committed over the summer to Purdue. Brey watched Marian and Saint Joseph play, and was intrigued at the possibility of pursuing Konieczny, who has a soft touch, can space the floor and make shots. He went for a career-high 39 points in one game against Elkhart Memorial last season and has scored 741 points halfway through high school.
Konieczny showed a little mix of former Irish forward Tim Abromaitis and mixed in some Vasturia IQ That was enough to grab — and keep — Brey’s attention.
Brey apparently kept Konieczny close on his recruiting radar through winter. Notre Dame attended open gyms at Saint Joseph. It was either Brey or associate head coach Rod Balanis. Sometimes both. They tracked his progress through the spring and the summer AAU circuit.
Brey and Balanis were in attendance at one of the new NCAA summer recruiting camps at the University of Illinois in July. Hours after watching Konieczny work, Brey extended a scholarship offer in late July. So did Iowa. He also held offers from Butler and Creighton.
Konieczny finished up the summer AAU circuit, made an unofficial visit to Notre Dame in early August, started his junior year at Saint Joseph last week, then ended his recruitment Sunday afternoon. He made the announcement on Twitter, which included him wearing a No. 20 Irish basketball uniform.
The more Konieczny worked this summer on his game — not settling on his outside shot, getting to the basket and finishing in traffic, getting stronger, getting tougher, getting better — the more he reminded Johnson of another big-time recruit he coached in high school.
Only one player, Johnson said, has improved as much during the summer as Konieczny did. That was former LaSalle and Purdue point guard Brandon McKnight. Johnson remembers McKnight wanting to chase greatness, and then doing so in the summers. Konieczny did the same the last two months.
“He put an awful lot of time and energy into getting better,” Johnson said. “What an unbelievable opportunity he has.”