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Notes: No problem - for now - at power forward for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

One way or another or even another, an offseason issue expected to be addressed by the Notre Dame men’s basketball program looks like it has no answer.

For now.

Long before it became the only Division I team to make consecutive NCAA tournament Elite Eight appearances, Notre Dame faced two key questions moving toward the 2016-17 season — how to compensate for the potential loss of point guard Demetrius Jackson should he bypass his senior season for the NBA draft, and who would step into the power forward/double-double machine spot for 6-foot-10, 245-pound Zach Auguste?

The first concern of Jackson potentially leaving — and he indeed is — was quieted with the signing of point guard Temple (T.J.) Gibbs last fall and the March re-emergence of junior-to-be Matt Farrell. As for replacing Auguste, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounding (10.7 per game) last season, that might take a little time. And effort. And patience.

Coming clear of a 24-12 season, Notre Dame had four options to replace Auguste —– sign a current high school senior, tap the typical college transfer wire, get a graduate-transfer — who would be immediately eligible — or go with someone on the current roster.

Coach Mike Brey believes that Door No. 4 is the best option.

If the Irish were to jump into ACC action tonight, the 6-10, 253-pound junior-to-be Martinas Geben (1.4 ppg., 0.9 rpg., 3.0 minutes pg in ’15-’16) would be first in line for the chance to pick up where Auguste left off. Behind him would be 6-9 sophomore-to-be Elijah Burns, who sat out last season to preserve a year of eligibility and 6-9 incoming freshman John Mooney.

“You’ve really got to speed up the development of the guys in program,” Brey said of finding Auguste’s replacement. “We’ve had a lot of guys when we asked them to de deliver that have delivered.

"Martin Geben is in the junior delivery mode. It’s time.”

It’s time because for myriad reasons, options one, two and three didn’t evolve the way many thought they would.

Notre Dame was involved with two high school seniors/five-star prospects for much of the winter. But Thon Maker, who was set to make an official visit to Notre Dame last month, declared and was cleared to enter the NBA draft. Another, Jarrett Allen (Austin, Texas), made his first official visit to Notre Dame last fall, but his recruitment never advanced into the serious stage.

“There are no seniors in high school that we’re doing anything with,” Brey said. “I doubt that would change, but you never know.”

Same goes for the current crop of college transfers, a group that currently includes over 500 players seeking something better. A handful reached out to gauge Notre Dame’s interest, which was never more than tepid. But Brey won’t close that door just yet, especially now that the spring semesters for many schools are ending.

“A lot of times when kids go home, they feel a little safer and they don’t have to meet face to face with their coach on campus,” he said. “Sometimes that’s when they make the decision. It will be interesting to see if there’s another wave of guys that would fit for us.”

Landing a fifth-year graduate transfer — a current college player who would be immediately eligible for 2016-17 — seemed the surest route but also could have been a slippery slope. Sinking one into the locker-room chemistry of a program that has gone to consecutive Elite Eights was a risk Brey didn’t want to take.

“You have to be really, really careful about that,” he said. “That cuts a little bit against some of our culture, but these days you’ve got to keep every avenue open.”

All or nothing

This week was shaping up to be a big one for the immediate basketball future of Notre Dame senior-to-be V.J. Beachem.

Having declared for next month’s NBA draft but keeping open the option of returning to school by not hiring an agent, Beachem had four NBA teams and a possible fifth in line to evaluate him in private workout settings.

But after not receiving an invitation to next week’s NBA combine in Chicago, Beachem decided that chasing pro basketball could wait.

“We talked Sunday night, and I said, 'You can still do the workouts,' ” Brey said of the 6-8 Fort Wayne, Ind., product. “He said, ‘Nope. Coach, my mind’s not there. I want to be locked back in on what we’re doing.’

“That was smart. He went into it very level-headed. He’s back and ready to roll.”

A bust-out junior year in which he averaged career highs for points (12.0) and rebounds (3.9), then was even better in the NCAA tournament (17.5 ppg., 4.0 rpg.), put Beachem on the NBA radar — but as an unfinished product with the chance to be something special.

A likely team captain next season, Beachem returns as the team’s leading scorer and a potential all-league preseason pick. He is projected as the second pick of the second round of the 2017 draft by nbadraft.net.

Awkward appearance

Having committed to attend way back in the fall with no thought the schools’ paths would ever cross in the 2016 NCAA tournament, Brey will serve as guest speaker Saturday for the ninth-annual Coaches vs. Cancer Wisconsin Gala, hosted by former Badgers coach and his good friend Bo Ryan.

Brey promised that he would do all he could to sidestep any reference to the events of an unforgettable March 25 evening for Wisconsin.

That’s when Notre Dame scored eight-consecutive points in the final 26 seconds to erase a five-point deficit and advance to the East Regional championship with a 61-56 victory over shell-shocked Wisconsin at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Also heavily involved in Coaches vs. Cancer, Brey’s annual golf outing/benefit will be held July 31 and Aug. 1, with former Irish All-American Troy Murphy as VIP guest.

Schedule stuff

One non-conference Irish game that has been in the work for weeks was finalized Wednesday.

Notre Dame will meet defending national champion Villanova at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 10 as part of the inaugural Never Forget Tribune Classic, which honors victims of 9/11. Pittsburgh and Pen State will play in the back end of the doubleheader, which tips at noon with the Irish game being televised by CBS prior to the annual Army-Navy football game.

Notre Dame won its last three meetings against Villanova when both were members of the Big East.

The game is one of three trips to the New York metropolitan area for Notre Dame, which makes two visits to Barclays Center in Brooklyn - for the Legends Classic along with Colorado, Northwestern and Texas in late November and at season's end for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Notre Dame junior-to-be Martinas Geben likely gets the first chance to replace Zach Auguste at the power forward position heading into the 2016-17 season.Tribune File Photo/GREG SWIERCZ