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Notre Dame freshman Prentiss Hubb (3) dribbles the ball during a scrimmage at an open practice Sunday afternoon at the Rolfs Athletics Hall.

{child_flags:featured}READY TO ROLL

{child_byline}By Tom Noie

South Bend Tribune{/child_byline}

SOUTH BEND

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-January, the present and future of the Notre Dame point guard position collided in a Purcell Pavilion training room.

In one area, former guard Matt Farrell plunged his swollen left ankle into a cold tub to return quicker than expected from a severe sprain that eventually morphed into a bone bruise. In the adjacent room, future guard Prentiss Hubb lay on a training table waiting to have his surgically-repaired right knee examined by team medical personnel. Reconstructive surgery stemming from an injury suffered in a summer-league game in June 2017 year wiped out Hubb’s senior season.

Farrell and Hubb never played together at Notre Dame, but their college careers may forever be linked. As one guard headed out the door following his four years, the other would arrive ready to step into his starting spot.

Hubb was considered such a key guy that Notre Dame wanted its doctors to closely monitor his rehabilitation. That’s why he was in Indiana during winter break from Gonzaga College High School in Washington. That’s also why Notre Dame exhausted every avenue to possibly get the 6-foot-3, 167-pound Hubb to graduate high school early and become a mid-year enrollee.

Hubb’s that important to the program.

“He’s a key,” said coach Mike Brey. “Prentiss has been very good since he’s been back. He’s looked really good.”

Hubb would be needed right away, but he wasn’t ready right away. Wouldn’t be for his first three months of college. That included the summer session and the team’s foreign tour of the Bahamas. Not until the final weekend of September would Hubb be given the medical green light.

If Hubb was cleared at noon that Friday, Brey likely would have put him in a white (starter’s) jersey at 12:01 for that day’s practice. His transition from hobbled to helper would be that quick. Didn’t matter if he’d never played in a college game. Didn’t matter if he was coming off a serious injury. Didn’t matter if he hadn’t played in a game that mattered since his junior year of high school, when he averaged 13.9 points a game.

For the Irish to flow the way they need to flow, Hubb has to be in there. Now. Brey’s not one to pump up a player before he’s been in the college basketball battle. Especially freshmen. He likes to allow guys to take their time easing into everything and adjusting to the speed of the game. On the court. Off it.

Brey’s fast-tracked Hubb, who’s likely going to be a starter from the first night forward.

That’s some select territory — like, Chris Thomas territory — in terms of freshman guards starting at Notre Dame under Brey. Tory Jackson didn’t start as a true freshman in his first game. Neither did Jerian Grant. Or Demetrius Jackson. Or Chris Quinn. Or Farrell.

Hubb should.

“I just gotta stay humble, not get too high-headed,” Hubb said. “Everybody has these expectations for me and all that, but just play the game I can play and play hard.

“Just don’t take anything for granted. Play the best I can and help my team to win.”

Finding his niche

Having spent so much time on the sideline, Hubb admitted to being a little rusty when finally cleared to compete. He’d been away for a long time, so it was going to take some time to feel himself again. But he would. He did.

“It was a little rough at first,” he said.

Hubb figures it took him a week or two to feel normal. Heck, first time out in five-on-five, he was splitting double teams and attacking the rim. In one sequence, he sliced between two defenders, drove the lane and kicked to a teammate for an open 3. But the pass hit the guy in the chest. That’s the different dimension that Hubb brings to the mix. He’ll drive it. He’ll find you. He’ll make a play.

“I like to pass the ball a lot,” Hubb said. “My teammates give me easy assists.”

Being paired alongside junior T.J. Gibbs will be second nature for Hubb. In high school, he played in the same backcourt as current Miami (Fla.) sophomore guard Chris Lykes. It was on a scouting trip to D.C. to watch Lykes that led Brey and his staff to discover Hubb. They liked Lykes, but they really liked Hubb, who was a year younger. But he played old.

“I know how to play on and off the ball,” Hubb said. “I don’t have to be that primary handler or that primary off-guard position.”

Watching Sunday’s open practice at Rolfs Athletic Hall, which still had a new paint smell, it didn’t take long to see how Hubb can be a factor. Working in a halfcourt set before a five-minute scrimmage sequence, Hubb handled the ball at the top of the key. Gibbs used the screen, then popped to the wing for an open look. Hubb delivered a perfect pocket pass — crisp and right where Gibbs needed it — before the junior rose and delivered a 3.

“It’s so much fun to play with him,” Gibbs said. “You can tell with his energy, he comes ready to play.”

Expect to see that sequence a lot this season. A team that features plenty of ball movement and cutting and moving also has to have two handlers. It’s got to be Gibbs and Hubb from the jump. They know it. They want it.

“It’s very similar to how me and Matt were,” Gibbs said. “He would show me the ropes. Having him there is something special. I can’t wait to get on the court with him for real.

“It’s so important for the way we run this team and do everything we do.”

Gibbs and Hubb were together for stretches Sunday. Hubb showed little problem finding ways to make a difference. Like finding Gibbs coming off a screen. Or taking it hard to the hoop and finishing with a pretty left-handed (his dominant hand) layup. He took his share of 3s, and was none too happy when one, then two, then three in a row failed to fall. He dropped his head a bit going to the bench before associate coach Rod Balanis barked at him.

“Great looks,” Balanis said of Hubb’s shots. “Keep being aggressive.”

Translation — keep hunting your shot. Next possession after the stoppage in play, Hubb drifted to the wing for a 3. There was no hesitation. He got the ball. He shot the ball. He scored the ball.

Hubb remains an unknown as preseason practice rolls into the season opener Nov. 6 against Illinois-Chicago — four days after the one-year anniversary of his surgery. For someone who was ranked a Top 40 prospect before his injury, Hubb remains pretty much of an unknown. But basketball fans are going to find out about him sooner than later.

“I’ve got a lot of energy; I came here to play,” Hubb said. “I’m not going to back down from anybody.”

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tnoie@ndinsider.com (574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

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