That’s all it took for guard Cormac Ryan to realize the murky and mysterious transfer portal is something surreal. Like going from zero to 100 in, well, fewer than 30 seconds.
Looking for something more out of his college basketball experience after one season at Stanford, Ryan joined the portal party in early June. At one time, there were more than 700 others looking to reboot their college careers.
For Ryan, change was needed.
Unlike many transfers, it wasn’t about wanting something more. Ryan’s first season at Stanford seemed solid. He started the season opener, and made 17 starts for a Cardinal team that finished 15-16, 8-10 in the Pac-12. He played in 24 games and was third on the squad in minutes per game (28.5). He averaged 8.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists, all fine for the former four-star recruit from Milton (Mass.) Academy.
But something was missing, something besides an inability to make shots. Touted coming out of high school as a knock-down shooter, Ryan shot 33.3 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from 3 last season. It wasn’t about makes and misses. It was about something else, a feeling that Ryan needed to feel but didn’t.
Off the court, Ryan’s transition to one of the country’s most challenging academic institutions really wasn’t. He pulled a 3.8 grade-point average as an undeclared major.
“I made a lot of great friends at Stanford; I have a tremendous amount of respect for the staff and the school,” Ryan said Friday evening. “But who I am as a basketball player, that’s such a big part of my life. I’m a ballplayer.
“For me, Stanford wasn’t a good fit basketball-wise.”
A two-time New England Prep School Athletic Conference player of the year, Ryan chose Stanford over Boston College, Davidson, Florida, Michigan, Northwestern and Villanova. He also considered Notre Dame, and visited South Bend during his junior year of high school. All those schools again were considered the second time around.
Once he entered the portal, everything accelerated. Life, they say, moves pretty fast; it moves faster in the portal.
Thirty seconds after his transfer become official in early June, Ryan received a text message from a head coach. Five minutes later, he fielded a phone call from that same head coach. Both were from Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. A two-day official visit was arranged for the last week of June.
Ryan learned more about how transfers often have flourished under Brey. He liked that. He also liked how guards are given a freedom to flow in Brey’s system.
“He’s a fantastic coach,” Ryan said. “With transfers, without transfers, he’s had a great track record with guards and that’s kind of what I saw in him and in Notre Dame.”
Ryan’s second recruiting tour basically started and ended with one school — Notre Dame. He committed three days after his official visit. Summer school already was in swing, so he’s back home in Chestnut Hill, Mass., for the rest of the summer. He underwent surgery Monday for a sports hernia that hampered him last season.
Still, basketball and South Bend aren’t far from his mind.
“When I get there, it’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun,” said Ryan, who will return in August for the fall semester. “I’m fired up.”
The right fit
Armed with three scholarships as public perception festered that the current roster might be a player or two short — the Irish return 10 of 11 players who combined to go 3-15 and finish in last place last season in the Atlantic Coast Conference — Brey refused to panic.
He wasn’t going to add a player or two just to add a player or two. For him, it’s always been about fit. How does a prospect fit into his program puzzle? On the floor? In the locker room? In the classroom?
Brey wanted to find the right someone. So he waited. He was fine with an empty recruiting class last fall. He was fine with having only transfer — a graduate one in Justin Pierce — visit in spring before he chose North Carolina. Members of his coaching staff monitored the transfer portal. They received emails from nearly 40 players interested in transferring to Notre Dame. None did. As April became May and May became June, Brey wasn’t convinced any portal possibilities were the right guys.
Ryan then appeared. That’s the reason Brey was quick with the phone call and even quicker with the text. He wanted Ryan. The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder offers the Irish exactly what they need, even during his mandatory sit-out season of 2019-20 before three years of eligibility.
What does he offer? Former Irish swingman Pat Connaughton knows. Connaughton and Ryan played for the same AAU program — the Middlesex (Mass.) Magic. The Tribune asked Connaughton for one word that best describes Ryan.
Ryan agreed with the assessment. Maybe it’s the New York in him — Ryan lived in the SoHo section of Manhattan until his family moved to Massachusetts his sophomore year of high school. Maybe it’s being raised in a family with four siblings where everything was a contest. Maybe it’s the way he’s wired.
“That just comes from within,” Ryan said of his competitiveness. “I just go all out whenever possible. Growing up in New York City gave me a little bit of an edge.”
An edge the Irish program lacked last season, but needs moving forward. Maybe from Ryan; maybe from the returning guys.
Ryan didn’t need much of an introduction to this year’s team. He’s familiar with the sophomore class. It’s one he had a chance to be a part of coming out of high school. Ryan and sophomore power forward Nate Laszewski played in the same prep school conference. They also once competed in the same all-star game 3-point shooting contest. A lot of Ryan’s friends are friends with Laszewski.
One time in high school, thanks to a quirk in the spring/summer schedule, Ryan played on the same AAU team (New York Rens) as Robby Carmody for a weekend. Now they’ll be teammates, and basically in the same class.
“I was pretty familiar with the team,” Ryan said.
As he was with campus, though one addition since his initial visit is Rolfs Hall, the stand-alone practice facility that the Irish will use full time for the first time this season. Ryan likes having a place — or is it palace? — to work on his game whenever he wants. Yet it was more than just the facility and its bells and whistles that drew him to Notre Dame.
“I’m not a huge buildings guy,” he said. “I’m more of a what’s-inside-the-buildings. But having a world-class facility is awesome. There’s no excuse for you not to get better.”
Ryan promises to get better in his sit-out season. He’s got to get stronger, get his shot more consistent, get a better understanding of how to impact games. He can’t wait to spend a year in the basketball lab.
“I’ll make the most of it, for sure,” he said. “This gives me a year to work on my game and hit the ground with wheels hot.”