Notebook: Recruiting takes center stage for Notre Dame basketball

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Recruiting never stops, but it does slow.

For most of a college basketball season that stretches from mid-October to late-March, the daily pursuit of prospects takes a backseat to more important matters. Like winning games, chasing regular-season conference championships and getting to the all-important NCAA tournament.

College coaches may steal a day here or there to research a potential prospect or slip out to a high school game. Any information gathered gets placed on the back burner for the coming months.

Time for it to pick up. Now it gets interesting.

College basketball coaches spent a chunk of April during the spring evaluation period on the road watching prospects, narrowing wish lists and basically setting a definitive course for the direction they want to take the next recruiting class.

April afforded a Notre Dame program that has been to two straight NCAA tournament Elite Eights to get its core list to about 15 current high school juniors.

“Now it’s me developing relationships with this group,” coach Mike Brey said. “That’s me over the next three months.”

If nothing about the current roster changes, Notre Dame has three scholarships to offer the Class of 2017. There might be a fourth grant to give — senior-to-be Austin Torres has a fifth-year option to return in ’17-’18 after sitting out his first year to preserve a year of eligibility.

However many grants there are to give, the Irish have three positions of need.

“Wing guys have been a real big focus,” said Brey, prohibited under NCAA recruiting regulations from mentioning any specific prospects. “We could use a big man and possibly a point guard. Now, is it a wing, a big and a point guard? Is it two wings and a big? That’s something we really need to look at.”

Notre Dame also may take a different recruiting route. Instead of waiting until the first home football game of the fall to start official visits, Brey and his staff have contemplated bringing in a prospect or two on official visits in June when the current roster is on campus for summer school.

“That could happen,” Brey said. “We certainly will have some unofficial visits.”

How this recruiting class comes together also may vary. Two seasons ago, it got going with a commitment from the top target — sophomore-to-be Matt Ryan — the first week of July. A year ago, Notre Dame landed its gotta-get-guy — point guard T.J. Gibbs — the first weekend of May. The first commitment may come in the summer or it may not come until fall.

“We’re not going to force anything,” Brey said. “If we feel a kid is close to a decision like T.J. was, maybe you bring him in in June. But if we do our visiting in September, I’m ready for that.

“There’s no rush.”

No rush, but plenty of urgency for a program that will have sent three players to the NBA the last two years to restock quickly and keep delivering at an elite level in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“This,” Brey said of the next recruiting cycle, “is a (heck) of a challenge for us.”

Looking ahead

Notre Dame held one two-hour workout in the spring — last month on the night after the annual year-end awards ceremony — which offered a sneak peek at next year’s team without senior power forward Zach Auguste, who graduates this weekend, and junior point guard Demetrius Jackson, who left early for the NBA.

The session featured a starting group of Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia in the backcourt, V.J. Beachem on the wing and power forwards Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben.

“It’s interesting to see them move when you take two really key guys out of there,” Brey said.

Under NCAA regulations, Notre Dame can hold six practices (one per week) when the Irish return June 15 for summer school. Those two-hour sessions will split into two segments, an hour and 15 minutes of team drills and 45 minutes of skill work. Nights are reserved for player-organized pickup games.

“V.J., Steve and Bonzie will run all that stuff in the summer,” Brey said.

Looking ahead II

Matchups for the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge should be announced soon with Notre Dame expected to receive an early-December home game.

Many figured that given the memorable NCAA tournament matchup that unfolded in late March, a Notre Dame-Wisconsin rematch would be must-see TV.

But there is an unwritten rule in the Challenge that looks to keep teams from playing on the road consecutive seasons. Teams that played road games the previous year usually get home games the following year.

Notre Dame and Wisconsin are due home games after winning last season’s Challenge road games. Notre Dame won at Illinois; Wisconsin won at Syracuse. Big Ten teams that had home games last season were Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Rutgers.

Notre Dame already has played Iowa (road loss) and Michigan State (home win) in Challenge matchups.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI