High standard awaits Notre Dame freshmen
No pressure here.
All the last two recruiting classes for the Notre Dame men’s basketball program have done in their first seasons is help the Irish become the only program in Division I to make back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA tournament.
Two years ago, Bonzie Colson stepped from the shadows in mid-January to become a key guy in the rotation as Notre Dame came within a basket of beating Kentucky. Last winter, a freshman’s tip in the closing seconds of the second-round tournament game against Stephen F. Austin (see Pflueger, Rex), propelled Notre Dame into the Sweet 16.
Who’s next? Will it be guard T.J. Gibbs, who just might be the starter by season's end? Power forward John Mooney? He gives coach Mike Brey something he's coveted for years — a stretch 4-man who can play inside and step outside. How about Nikola Djogo? He was the last of the trio to commit and is a relative unknown, something that may change.
The three-man class is not ranked among ESPN.com's top 40, the 35 according to Rivals.com or the top 25 ranked by Scout.com.
Following is a capsule look at the three incoming Irish freshmen who will be on campus in time for the first summer school session in mid-June. Players are listed alphabetically.
• Particulars: 6-foot-7, 200 pounds.
• Position: Guard/small forward.
• Hometown: Stony Creek, Ontario, Canada.
• High Schools: SaltFleet District High School/Athlete Institute Basketball Academy.
• On Twitter: @NikolaDjogo
• Status: The final member of the recruiting class committed in early October, 10 days after making his official visit. He had planned on visiting Wichita State and Wisconsin before committing to Notre Dame.
• 2015-16 season: The left-hander earned second team all-league honors after averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four assists per game for Athlete Institute, where he played one season after graduating from SaltFleet.
• Recruiting resume: Ranked a three-star prospect by Rivals.com and Scout.com; no stars by ESPN.com.
• Notable: Djogo (Jo-Go) didn’t appear on Notre Dame’s recruiting radar until early September when Mike Brey visited Athlete Institute to recruit center Thon Maker, who considered an official campus visit before declaring for the NBA draft. The more Brey watched Maker, the more impressed he was with Djogo.
• His coach says: “He’s not afraid of the moment. Coach Brey is going to love that. He sees some similarities between Nik and Steve Vasturia. He can guard (positions) one through four. Being a knock-down 3-point shooter is going to help him. I can’t keep him out of the gym or the weight room. As long as Nik continues to work and get stronger, people are going to know about him really quickly.”
-Athlete Institute coach Brandon Lesovsky.
• An opposing coach says: “He’s crafty and he can shoot it. Like, he’ll pop one on you from deep that you don’t expect. His game translates well to the college level because he’s big, he shoots it and he makes the right play. Just watching from a distance, he fits what Notre Dame does as far as sharing the ball, spacing the floor and playing. That’s a Notre Dame type kid right there.”
-Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.) coach Luke Barnwell.
• Memorable moment: “Nik was not an Alpha dog when he got here, so I was curious to see how he would do one game when Thon didn’t play because he was getting ready to participate in Basketball Without Borders. We had tired legs after playing three games in three days but Nik was tough and fearless. He won the game for us on an out-of-bounds play where he caught it moving to his right, cut left, hit a shot and was fouled,” Lesovsky said. “He finished with a game-high 36 points. That was one of those moments when you’re like, (Darn), he can be really good.”
TEMPLE (T.J.) GIBBS
• Particulars: 6-3, 190.
• Position: Point guard.
• Hometown: Scotch Plains, N.J.
• High School: Seton Hall Prep.
• On Twitter: @Tempppp12
• Status: The first player in the class to commit to Notre Dame the first weekend of May 2015, Gibbs was top priority of the Irish coaching staff, who needed a lead guard/insurance plan should Demetrius Jackson choose to bypass his senior season for the NBA draft. Jackson declared in April for the draft and is projected to be a first-round selection. Gibbs will challenge junior-to-be Matt Farrell for the starting point guard spot in 2016-17.
• 2015-16 season: Gibbs averaged 20.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.4 steals a game his senior year, when he became the all-time leading scorer in Seton Hall Prep school history. He also was a first team all-state selection.
• Recruiting resume: Considered a four-star prospect by each of the three major recruiting services, Gibbs is ranked the No. 64 prospect by Rivals, No. 80 by ESPN.com and 93rd by Scout.com. After listing as many as 12 schools on his recruiting wish list, including Auburn, Boston College and Georgia Tech, Gibbs took only a visit to Notre Dame.
• Notable: Gibbs participated in the Derby Classic All-Star game earlier this month in Louisville, Ky., where he won the 3-point competition. He also participated in Thursday's Capital Classic in Washington.
• His coach says: “He’s just so coachable. When he had the chance to set the school scoring record as a senior, I remember saying he had no shot at it because he was so unselfish. He’ll slide right in at Notre Dame. He is walking into a perfect situation.”
-Seton Hall Prep coach Kevin Williams.
• An opposing coach says: “He’s the whole package. His ability to impact games on the offensive and defensive ends is terrific. A lot of times, kids look to do something only on the offensive end, but he’s a (heck) of a defender. He guards. And on the offensive end, he’s unstoppable. He’s almost impossible to cover. You’re going to like him out there.”
-Delbarton (N.J.) School coach Dan Whalen.
• Memorable moment: “There was one in the first round of the state playoffs where the other team won the jump ball and went down to the other end. Someone got a deflection and there was a loose ball. T.J. comes sprinting from 20 feet away and does a belly-flop to track down the ball. It totally changed the complexion of the game. Our guys saw that and said, if he can do anything to help us win, so can we,” Williams said. “He was a special player.”
• Particulars: 6-9, 240.
• Position: Power forward.
• Hometown: Longwood, Fla.
• High School: Lake Brantley.
• On Twitter: @jmoon32
• Status: Mooney originally committed to Florida as a sophomore. He reopened his recruitment after former Gators coach Billy Donovan left for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Donovan encouraged Irish coach Mike Brey to look at Mooney, who took an official visit to Notre Dame over Labor Day weekend and committed the following Monday, four weeks after decommitting from Florida.
• 2015-16 season: Averaged 24.8 points. 14.0 rebounds and five blocks a game to help lead Lake Brantley to a 22-4 record. Mooney was first team all-state and the Central Florida player of the year. He closed his prep career as the leading scorer and rebounder in Lake Brantley history.
• Recruiting resume: Considered a three-star prospect by the three major recruiting services – ESPN.com, Rivals and Scout. Mooney also considered Boston College, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Wake Forest.
• Notable: Mooney turned down requests to play in any post-season all-star game so he could further work on his game. He also wasn’t going to attend his senior prom because it interfered with his workout schedule before being encouraged by his head coach to go.
• His coach says: “There wasn’t a game we played all year where he wasn’t the best player on the floor, and everybody knew it. Every night, he just had that ‘Wow’ factor. The way he defends and rebounds will get him playing time at Notre Dame right away. He can definitely help.”
-Lake Brantley coach Mike Cuff.
• An opposing coach says: “Being 6-9 and the muscular kid that he is, he created all kinds of matchup problems. He could post you up or take you outside. He’s a big boy. He has a high IQ for the game. He could have averaged more points than he did, but he’s not a selfish player. He made the right basketball play. I coached against him for three years. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about him anymore.”
-Timber Creek (Fla.) coach David Bailey.
• Memorable moment: During Lake Brantley’s first game of Mooney’s senior season, Cuff called for a “five-out” play that put Mooney at the top of the key to initiate the offense as the point guard. His four other teammates cleared out while the other team waited for him to go either right or left off the dribble. Mooney instead pulled up and drilled a jumper from about three feet behind the 3-point line.
“I looked at the other coach, who was a woman, and she just kind of looked at me like, ‘Yeah, we don’t have an answer for that.’” Cuff said. “That’s one thing I’ll always remember about John.”