Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem enters NBA draft

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

He still occupies the first cubicle on the left inside the Notre Dame men’s basketball locker room, still sported a white (starter’s) jersey in Tuesday’s first offseason team workout and still is counted on to be a senior captain next winter.

But for now, small forward V.J. Beachem has additional basketball matters on his mind that don't include the Irish after declaring Tuesday for the NBA draft.

Beachem will not hire an agent so he can retain his college eligibility. He will see where his game is in relation to other draft hopefuls over the next six weeks before having to make a decision in late May whether to stay in the draft or, as many expect, return for his senior year.

The two-round, 60-selection draft is June 23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“The process will allow me to push my development to another level and get a better idea of what the organizations in the NBA think of my abilities on the court at this point in my career,” Beachem said in a university statement.

Whether that process includes a trip to the mid-May NBA draft combine in Chicago remains to be seen. Official invitations to the May 10-15 sessions will be extended early next month. Under new draft rules, potential pro prospects who do not hire agents are allowed to attend the combine and/or work out for one NBA team before deciding their basketball futures by May 25.

As of Tuesday night, at least 73 underclassmen had declared for the draft. Last May, only 61 draft hopefuls, which also included college seniors, auditioned at the combine. The NBA is expected to expand the combine to accommodate the number of underclassmen looking to be evaluated.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Beachem was considered an early second-round pick by both (No. 36) and (No. 41) in the 2017 draft. But a big effort in the NCAA Tournament has the Fort Wayne, Ind., native thinking big, and thinking earlier than anticipated about playing at the game’s ultimate level.

On Monday, he was named the team’s most improved player following a 2015-16 season in which he averaged a career-best 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Beachem was even better in March. In four NCAA Tournament games, he averaged a team-best 17.5 points with 4.0 rebounds as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight. He scored all of four points in four NCAA games as a sophomore; he scored 70 in four NCAA tournament games last month.

“I really pushed for V.J. to take advantage of the new rules to get a better understanding of his future in professional basketball,” said Irish coach Mike Brey in a university release. “He finished the season on an outstanding run and the ability to go through this process will be another step forward in his confidence as a player and as a leader in our program.

“This can really set him up for a great finish to his college career or provide him the opportunity to play the game at its highest level.”

Beachem and Brey were not available for additional comment Tuesday.

Beachem is the second Irish underclassman this spring — a first during Brey’s 16 seasons — to declare for the draft. Former classmate and teammate Demetrius Jackson announced two weeks ago that he would forgo his senior season and sign with an agent to pursue the draft, where he is projected to be a first-round pick.

Beachem, Jackson and former Irish teammate Zach Auguste, who graduates next month, all hope to be invited to Chicago next month. Notre Dame has never sent three players to the combine under Brey.

Beachem is the sixth underclassman during Brey’s tenure to declare early for the draft. He follows former Irish All-American Troy Murphy (2001), guard Chris Thomas (2003), power forward Torin Francis (2005), power forward Luke Harangody (2009) and Jackson (2016). Murphy left school after his junior year and was a lottery pick. Thomas, Francis and Harangody eventually returned to school to finish out their four seasons. Thomas and Francis eventually went undrafted. Harangody was a second-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2010.

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Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem plans to test the NBA draft waters this spring.AP Photo/CHRIS SZAGOLA