Notre Dame basketball: For Brey, it all worked out in the end

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Nerves were a little on edge inside the Notre Dame men’s basketball offices as August neared an end.

Irish coaches had spent a chunk of the spring and nearly all of July paring down their recruiting wish list of high school seniors. But by the time the one month that he gets a chance to wind down was nearly over, Mike Brey was all wound up.

Names of five players highlighted his recruiting big board, but none had officially visited or committed. That was rare for a program that often gets at least one early verbal. When Notre Dame secured a 2013 class considered among the nation’s Top 20, current freshmen V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia committed early in their junior years.

As Labor Day neared and little recruiting progress had been made, Brey wondered.

“We went into this year under a little bit of pressure because we didn’t have a commitment,” Brey said. “I was a little concerned. You know what’s funny? It kind of worked itself out and we got the guys we should have got at the end of the day.”

On Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period, two high school seniors delivered their national letters of intent to Notre Dame — Bonzie Colson Jr., a 6-foot-6, 200-pound combo forward from New Bedford, Mass., and Martin Geben, a 6-9, 230-pound forward from Vilnius, Lithuania who attends high school in Hagerstown, Md.

“You felt really good about these guys in early August,” Brey said Wednesday, the first day under NCAA regula-tions that he could publicly comment. “That makes you nervous. You don’t want to screw it up and all you could do is screw it up.”

Both were identified early in the recruiting process as Irish fits, with assists from others.

Pat Clatchey, who coached Irish senior guard Eric Atkins at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Columbia, Md., mentioned Geben to Notre Dame when the big kid was a high school sophomore. The Irish started tracking his progress.

As for Colson, Leo Papile, a former assistant executive director of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics and founder/coach of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) AAU program, contacted assistant Martin Ingelsby at the start of Colson’s junior year. The Irish would soon track his prep career closely.

“We have a lot of people that work for us out there,” Brey said. “They’ve watched our system. They’ve watched how we’ve played and said these are your kind of guys and these guys were.”

Both players visited campus during home football weekends and offered verbal commitments within 31 days of each other. Geben, considered a four-star recruit, chose the Irish on Sept. 6; Colson, a three-star prospect, commit-ted Oct. 7.

Geben is ranked No. 98 in the rivals.com 150; Colson is No. 146.

Thirty-eight days before signing day, the Irish recruiting effort was all but over. A wish list that had been at five af-ter the July evaluation period delivered four official visits and never saw the addition of a new name or two or three.

It’s just not how Notre Dame operates.

“We really do recruit with a rifle; it’s not a shotgun method,” Brey said. “You really zero in on (only a few) guys.”

With fifth-year seniors Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman graduating in the spring, Colson and Geben will com-pete for playing time next fall. They’ll enroll for summer school in June and can accompany Notre Dame on its foreign tour of Italy in August.

“Both of those guys really know how to play,” Brey said. “Both of them physically are ready to play as young guys.”

Colson averaged 17.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks as a junior for St. Andrew’s School. Brey likens his skills to former Irish All-American Luke Harangody because of his ability to find different ways to score. Colson could be considered an undersized forward until you factor in his 7-foot- wing span. That allows him compete with almost anyone.

“With Bonzie, the worst thing you can do is put a position on him,” Brey said. “Bonzie truly is a basketball player and he’s a beautiful basketball player.”

Geben averaged 17.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks as a junior, his second season with St. Maria Goretti School. That effort earned him most valuable player honors in the Baltimore Catholic League, an honor Atkins twice secured.

Brey was drawn to Geben’s endless energy and a willingness to play post defense, battle for rebounds and take a charge, traits often not found in prep big men. A member of Lithuania’s national team, Geben won’t be fazed by being asked to battle older big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Still growing into his body, Geben could be 6-10, 250 by summer.

“He becomes an important guy right away,” Brey said. “He’s really ready to do stuff for us.”

Notre Dame has one scholarship still to offer. That grant will carry over into the spring for a late-rising high school senior or, ideally, a college transfer big man.

As for the 2015 recruiting class, plenty of work by the Irish staff has already been done. Brey will take a look at front-line prospects, wing shooters, maybe even a point guard if the right opportunity arises.

How many scholarships the Irish can offer remains to be determined. However it shakes out, Brey would like to breathe a little easier next August.

“I would love to have a commitment before next Labor Day,” he said. “But every year is kind of different.”

A native of Lithuania, 6-foot-9 high school senior Martin Geben is one of two recruits to sign with the Notre Dame men's basketball team Wednesday. Photo provided