Notre Dame basketball adds PF John Mooney commitment

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Visiting a campus that never was supposed to be part of his college consideration, high school senior John Mooney carried a four-item checklist last weekend that he wanted to find out more about from the Notre Dame men’s basketball program.

Come the end of his three-day stay, which ended Sunday when he felt really good about each of the items, Mooney decided that he had had enough of the recruiting process.

Again.

Late Sunday, the 6-foot-9 power forward from Lake Brantley (Fla.) High School became the second member of the 2016 Irish recruiting class after committing to coach Mike Brey.

“I knew going into the visit what a first-class school it was,” Mooney said by phone early Monday afternoon. “It’s an all-around great fit.”

What most impressed Mooney?

“What didn’t blow me away?” he said. “It was awesome from the moment I stepped on campus until I left. It felt like home.”

Mooney decommitted last month from Florida, which didn’t seem to fit with new coach Mike White. He wanted to look closely at four aspects of a Notre Dame program that won 32 games, captured the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the first time since 1979 last season.

Mooney sought a special relationship with his head coach. He and his family had known former Florida coach Billy Donovan for years. Playing for him in Gainesville would have been near-perfect had Donovan not left for the NBA to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder. They and Brey hit it off almost immediately. It was if they had known each other for years (like with Donovan) instead of days.

“We’re lucky to build a special relationship with him,” Mooney said.

Mooney also wanted to feel tied together with his teammates, and the Irish felt right away like brothers. He was hosted by junior guard Steve Vasturia and spent a lot of time with freshmen Elijah Burns, Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan.

“I got close with all of them; they’re all high-character guys,” Mooney said.

Mooney also had to fit with the Irish way of play, and there are few systems that are as player-friendly as Brey’s, which covets versatile power forwards like Mooney that can play the proverbial stretch-4 spot in the mold of former Irish standout Rob Kurz.

“Coach Brey likes to get up and down the floor and play basketball,” Mooney said. “You just kind of flow in his system.”

Last, and certainly not least, Mooney wanted to make sure a high emphasis was placed on academics.

“Notre Dame speaks for itself in that area,” he said.

Once there were decisive checks next to each of his four areas, all that was left for Mooney was a flight home Sunday afternoon and commitment to Brey by phone Sunday night.

“On top of it, I’m Irish and I’m Catholic,” he said.

Mooney joins point guard Temple (T.J.) Gibbs from Scotch Plains, N.J., who committed in the spring. Both made their official visit to campus over Labor Day weekend and played pickup together.

“He’s a (heck) of a player,” Mooney said.

Under NCAA recruiting regulations, Brey is prohibited from commenting on Gibbs and Mooney until national signing day. Notre Dame has one scholarship remaining heading into the early-signing period of November.

Mooney is ranked a three-star prospect by espn.com, rivals.com and scout.com. He will be the first Floridian to play for Notre Dame since guard Admore White exhausted his eligibility in 1997. Only six Florida natives in program history have played for Notre Dame. The hot weather he handled over the weekend during his visit will eventually be replaced by snow and cold and wind, something Mooney hasn’t had to deal much with in his native state.

“I need to get to the store for some jackets and ear muffs,” Mooney joked.

A tall and lanky point guard until eighth grade, Mooney will be a four-year varsity starter for Lake Brantley. He led the Patriots in scoring, rebounding and assists as a sophomore despite undergoing an appendectomy and battle mononucleosis. Mooney does a little of everything for coach Mike Cuff.

“He’s an all-around player,” Cuff said. “We like to run an up-tempo style. John’s the guy getting the rebound and the first one down the floor. With the way he dribbles and passes, now it’s like, just go ahead and go with it.

“He often gets more out of a good pass than scoring.”

Cuff could see even before Mooney played his first varsity game that the potential was there to develop into a high Division I talent.

“He was the smartest kid on the team,” Cuff said. “His maturity level was key. He was a freshman, but he fit right in.”

Mooney verballed to Florida prior to the start of his sophomore year. He averaged 16.3 points and 12 rebounds a game his junior year. After decommitting this summer, he also heard from the likes of Boston College, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Stanford, Texas, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.

Notre Dame assistant coach Martin Ingelsby was among the first to call Cuff when Mooney decided that he wanted to look at other schools.

Cuff figured a visit to Notre Dame would be tough for Mooney to forget.

“I told him that if he went up there for a football game, he was going to fall in love with the place,” Cuff said. “Then he sent me a picture of the leprechaun during the football game. He had a great time.”

Brey has an in-home visit with Mooney set for Thursday. It’s the first week that college coaches are allowed to make in-home and school visits to see prospects. Among the seniors that Brey has scheduled home visits with is five-star center prospect Thon Maker, a native of the Sudan currently attending Orangeville (Ontario) Prep School.

Brey has a Sept. 14 visit scheduled with the 7-foot-1 Maker.

Power forward John Mooney, who originally committed to Florida as a sophomore at Lake Brantley (Fla.) High School, committed Sept. 8 to Notre Dame and plans to sign with the Irish in November.Photo by JOSHUA C. CRUEY/Orlando Sentinel