No joke - wing Nikola Djogo commits to Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Fielding a phone call early Wednesday evening from a college coach who really wanted to add him to his 2016 recruiting class, 6-foot-7, 185-pound wing Nikola Djogo decided to have a little fun before getting down to serious commitment business.

Djogo, who attends Athlete Institute Prep in Mono, Ontario, where it’s basically all basketball nearly all the time, made an official visit last weekend to Notre Dame. Everything went better than expected, so much so that Djogo wouldn’t have minded committing to coach Mike Brey right then and there.

But Djogo decided to hold off. It’s easy to have such strong feelings for a school during and soon after an official visit. But if he still felt that way about Notre Dame and all it offered a day or two or three later, then he’d help Brey finish his 2016 recruiting class.

Djogo did just that by committing Wednesday evening, but not before having a little fun with the veteran coach.

Brey phoned Djogo to check in and see if he had any additional questions or concerns after the official campus visit. Djogo said he did, but it was news that Brey had probably not planned on hearing.

“He was asking about my day and we were making small talk,” Djogo said. “Then he started asking about Notre Dame and I told him, ‘Sir, I can honestly say that I don’t think Notre Dame is the right fit for me.’”

Silence swept across the phone line. Brey, it seemed, was baffled. Djogo, meanwhile, did everything he could to keep from busting out in laughter.

“I was crying on the other end,” Djogo said.

The seconds that passed seemed like minutes. Finally, Djogo let the Irish coach off the hook. Not only was he still thinking long and hard and often about Notre Dame, but Djogo was ready to commit to Brey.

Class closed.

“He told me that after all these years, it’s the first time he ever got shot-faked on a commitment,” Djogo said.

It’s only fitting that Djogo’s commitment was a bit unconventional. Nothing about his recruitment to Notre Dame was normal. He wasn’t even on the Irish basketball radar until Brey and assistant coach Anthony Solomon made a visit to Athlete Institute Prep, located about an hour outside of Toronto and, in Djogo’s words, “in the middle of nowhere.”

The Irish coaches arrived last month to scout Thon Maker a, 7-foot, five-star center prospect who had planned to make an official visit to Notre Dame this coming weekend. That visit has since been scrapped.

Djogo, in a sense, snagged the scholarship that many figured would be held for Maker.

“He knows I committed,” Djogo said with a laugh of Maker. “We talk about Notre Dame every day.”

Brey and Solomon were prepared that September day to watch Maker, but then had much of their attention stolen by Djogo, who was active and aggressive and just flying around the floor. He knew the Irish coaches were in the stands, but felt zero additional pressure to perform. He played well that day. Really well. So much so that Notre Dame ramped up its recruiting efforts on someone who only up until recently, was being recruited by small Canadian colleges. Not universities. Colleges.

“I was just playing how I usually play that day, battling with Thon,” Djogo said of how he caught the eyes of the Irish coaches. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I was confident in what I could do.”

His commitment maxes out the Notre Dame recruiting class at three. Point guard Temple “T.J.” Gibbs from Seton Hall (N.J.) Prep committed in May. John Mooney, a power forward from Lake Brantley High School, committed over Labor Day weekend. He had originally committed to Florida.

Djogo and his father had a courtside seat for Saturday’s Irish men’s basketball practice. He played pickup with current Irish the previous night, spent a lot of time at dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House with freshman Rex Pflueger, and hung out later that night with junior V.J. Beachem and freshman Elijah Burns.

“I hit it off so well with the guys that I already felt like I was part of the team,” Djogo said.

He had hoped to take another visit (Wichita State) or two (possibly Wisconsin) after leaving South Bend, but decided this week to end everything.

Also on campus last weekend was five-star center Jarrett Allen, a Top 20 prospect from Austin, Texas, who has Notre Dame among his final eight. Maker also is intrigued by Notre Dame.

What happens with Allen? Maker? Notre Dame may be a possibility for one or the other, but nothing would be decided until spring, and only then if a scholarship opens for one reason or another with someone on the current Notre Dame roster.

Djogo and Gibbs and Mooney will officially sign their national letters of intent next month. Brey is prohibited from commenting on any recruit until that time.

Djogo averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as a junior before transferring to AI, for his final year of prep schooling. He is not ranked by any of the three major college basketball recruiting services. He only recently starting hearing from Ivy League schools (Penn) and mid-majors (East Tennessee State), but has believed since eighth grade that he could find a way to play major college basketball in the United States.

Six weeks ago, he wasn’t even on Notre Dame’s radar. Now he’s ready to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“It’s crazy,” Djogo said. “But I’m confident in my abilities. I was sure everything was going to work out.”

What will Djogo bring to the program next summer?

“Just a ton of versatility,” he said. “I can space the floor, move and cut and shoot it and I’ve got some sneaky athleticism.”

And already a sneaky sense of humor.

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