Notre Dame hoops: Eyeing incoming Irish freshmen

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Freshmen have played key roles for the Notre Dame men's basketball team in each of its first two seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Next year's rookies likely will get a chance to do the same for the defending conference tournament champions who came within a 3-pointer of getting to the school's first Final Four since 1978. The graduation of seniors Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant leaves a massive void for someone to step in and grab the minutes and points and rebounds left behind by the two All-ACC selections.

Small forward Matt Ryan brings perimeter-shooting excellence and court vision. The athletic Rex Pflueger embraces defense and can finish at the rim. Elijah Burns does a little of everything. At least one of the three could find himself in the rotation sooner than later. All three could carve out arole in some way, shape or form in 2015-16.

The recruiting class was ranked No. 37 by ESPN.com and not ranked in Rivals.com's top 30 or Scout.com's top 25.

Following is a capsule look at the three freshmen who will arrive at Notre Dame in June for summer school. Players are listed alphabetically.

•ELIJAH BURNS

Particulars: 6-foot-8, 230 pounds.

Position: Power forward.

Hometown: Troy, N.Y.

High school: Blair Academy, Blairstown, N.J.

On Twitter: @ElijahBurns12

Status: The second member of the recruiting class who committed in mid-July, Burns reclassified to the 2015 class and repeated his junior year at Blair in 2013-14. He attended LaSalle Institute in his hometown of Troy, N.Y., for three years before transferring to Blair.

2014-15 season: He averaged 14 points and nine rebounds a game for Blair, which finished 19-7 and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship.

Recruiting resume: ESPN: Four stars, unranked; Rivals: Three stars, unranked; Scout: Three stars, unranked.

Notable: Burns is the first Irish recruit since former swingman Carleton Scott to commit to Notre Dame without first seeing campus. He took his official visit last fall after a summer commitment and then signed his national letter of intent in mid-November. … He had scholarship offers from Boston College, Rhode Island, Seton Hall and West Virginia at the time of his commitment to Notre Dame. ... Burns was selected to play in April’s Jordan Brand regional all-star game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but was unable to participate after undergoing surgery in March for a nagging ankle injury that bothered him for much of his senior season. He also suffered a broken wrist during his high school career. … Burns is currently finishing up a two-week internship in Washington with ESPN’s show, “Dan LeBetard is Highly Questionable?”

His coach says: “He basically made this his team with his leadership. He was a facilitator for us, sort of a point-four man. He’s not unlike (Notre Dame freshman) Bonzie (Colson). He’s not as good of a scorer around the rim as Bonz, but he’s more skilled. He’ll go down as one of the five best players that we’ve ever had here. He was that good. You’re getting one of the best kids we’ve had out there. He’s a big-time player. This kid can play.”

•Blair Academy coach Joe Mantegna.

An opposing coach says: “I love talking about guys who kicked our butts the last two years (laughs). He’s had two fantastic years for Blair and has been exceptionally good against us. His game is pretty sophisticated. He’s one guy we just didn’t have an answer for because he can do a lot of different things. He was a really hard guard in our league, which has some high-level Division I talent. He would change shots. He would keep guys in front of him. He’s going to be able to guard at the next level. He seemed to be more patient this year and that’s going to serve him well in learning how to decipher defenses and letting things come to him. He’s got a good demeanor about him. Unfortunately for us, he got better between his junior and senior years. I’ll root for him at the next level. I’m excited to see what he does.”

•Peddie (N.J.) School coach Joel Rulewich.

•REX PFLUEGER

Particulars: 6-6, 180.

Position: Shooting guard.

Hometown: Dana Point, Calif.

High school: Mater Dei.

On Twitter: @rexpflueger_1

Status: The last member of the recruiting class to commit after an early-September weekend visit, Pflueger chose Notre Dame over California, San Diego State and Texas A&M.

2014-15 season: A second team all-state selection and Orange County (Calif.) Register player of the year, Pflueger averaged 16.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.0 steals per game for the Monarchs, who finished 29-5. He sat out two games serving a suspension after playing in an offseason charity game.

On a team with five Division I recruits, Pflueger scored at least 20 points 11 times and twice had a season-high of 27.

Recruiting resume: ESPN: Four stars, No. 96 prospect; Rivals: Four stars, unranked; Scout: Three stars, unranked.

Notable: Pflueger hit one of two free throws with 25.3 seconds remaining in overtime to give Mater Dei a one-point lead over Bishop O’Dowd High School in the California state championship game. Mater Dei then lost by one following two Ivan Raab free throws with 0.8 seconds remaining. Pflueger led the Monarchs with 19 points. … Pflueger participated in the national high school slam dunk championship at Carmel High School just outside Indianapolis during Final Four weekend. … Pflueger was a teammate of Matt Ryan at the Capital Classic all-star game in late April.

His coach says: “He was our best defender and really built up strength-wise between his junior and senior years. As a junior, he kind of wore down toward the end of the year. This year, we put him on the other team’s best player for every game. It didn’t matter if it was a guard or a center. Rex would guard him and he would exert so much effort. He just busted his (butt) every game and played well all the way through the season. His athleticism just sets him apart from everyone. He’s going to be a good one.”

•Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight.

An opposing coach says: “The first time I realized how good of a Division I kid Rex is going to be was this year when we were scouting Mater Dei against St. John Bosco Prep, who has a high D-I recruit in (junior) Vance Jackson. It was the intensity that Rex gave on the defensive end of the court that set him apart. The guys that make it at the next level are the guys that buy into the defensive end and do all the little things well. He just has a focus on the defensive end and prides himself on always guarding the other team’s best player. He’s going to fit in really well. Notre Dame is getting a heck of a kid.”

•Anaheim Servite High School coach John Morris

•MATT RYAN

Particulars: 6-7, 210.

Position: Small forward.

Hometown: Cortland Manor, N.Y.

High school: Iona Preparatory School.

On Twitter: @Matt_Ryan32

Status: The top target on Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting wish list, Ryan committed just before the start of the July evaluation period in 2014. He received recruiting interest from Duke and North Carolina before undergoing double-hip surgery late in his junior year. The injury kept him off the all-important AAU circuit in the summer of 2014. Ryan then played his way back into shape but still lost close to 20 pounds his senior season.

2014-15 season: Ryan averaged 15.8 points, six rebounds and four assists, and shot 38 percent from 3 for the Gaels, who went 22-6 and captured their first Class AA Archdiocesan championship in school history. Ryan was named New York State Mr. Basketball.

Recruiting resume: ESPN: Four stars, unranked; Rivals: Three stars, No. 114 top prospect in nation; Scout: Three stars, unranked.

Notable: Ryan had scholarship offers from Iowa State, Michigan, Stanford and West Virginia at the time of his Notre Dame commitment. ... He participated in three postseason all-star games – the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic in Louisville, Ky., the Jordan Brand Regional all-star game in Brooklyn and the Capital Classic in Washington. … Ryan and Burns were AAU teammates with the Albany (N.Y.) City Rocks.

His coach says: “He has all the intangibles to be really good at the next level. Everybody knows that he’s a really good shooter, but he’s just as good of a passer. He’ll deliver the tough pass right where it needs to be. He’s just a really good basketball player. He may be more of a (small forward/power forward combo) in college if he’s done growing. If he gets to 6-9, he could the stretch the D and play down low. Playing at Notre Dame, in that system, it’s the perfect fit. It’s exactly who he is.”

•Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo.

An opposing coach says: “There are shooters and then there are fourth-quarters shooters, and Matt just put the fear of God into you in the fourth quarter. He had that look about him that he wanted to take the shot and he was going to shoot the ball and make it. He has (former Notre Dame guard) Kyle McAlarney-type range and shoots the 3 as smoothly as any NBA player. I’m not sure he can put it on the floor like Kyle could but he’s strong enough and has a presence about himself that he can also play inside. I would much rather talk about Matt Ryan going to Notre Dame than talk about game-planning to play against him.”

•Xaverian Brothers High School coach Jack Alesi.

Notre Dame recruit Elijah Burns assumed more of a leadership role for Blair Academy his senior season.Photo courtesy/Blair Academy
Incoming Irish freshman Matt Ryan had a solid all-star game showing Saturday in Louisville, Ky.Photo provided/The Journal News, PETER CARR
Rex Pflueger brings athleticism and a defensive mindset to Notre Dame.AP Photo/MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ