Ryan Humphrey hired as Notre Dame assistant

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Tucked at the bottom of the job description for the Notre Dame men’s basketball assistant coaching position first posted on the university web site late last month was an eight-word disclaimer of sorts.

“There is a preferred candidate for this position.”

Filing one of two vacancies on coach Mike Brey’s staff was expected to be swift.

It was swift.

Targeted within hours of an assistant coaching vacancy opening, Humphrey was officially introduced Wednesday as the newest member of Brey's staff.

“I’m elated about the opportunity to return to my alma mater and coach alongside my friends, former coaches and mentor,” Humphrey said in a university press release.

“When you get into all this, that’s really in many ways, the end game,” former teammate Torrian Jones said of seeing someone he played with and cried with and won with return as an assistant coach at their alma mater. “It’s really important for our program to grow and get better, and who better to be leading and teaching that next generation of kids than someone who did it and he did it here.”

The 36-year-old Humphrey, who has spent the last two seasons as director of player development at Northwestern, accepted Brey’s job offer May 26.

Brey made it no secret following last month's “state of the program” press conference that his first order of hiring business was to get someone to tutor the Irish power forwards. He wanted that someone to be the 6-foot-8 Humphrey, a first team All-Big East selection and NBA first-round draft pick as a Notre Dame senior in 2002.

Former NBA coach Doug Collins, whose son is the head coach at Northwestern, told Brey that he believes that Humphrey is a “future coaching star.”

Humphrey played two years at Notre Dame after transferring from Oklahoma. The Tulsa, Okla., native originally committed to play for former Irish coach Matt Doherty, who left for North Carolina before Humphrey was eligible. Humphrey instead played his two collegiate years for Brey, a coach who didn’t recruit him but grew to love his love for all aspects of the game.

Humphrey ranks third in school history for blocked shots (166), first in blocked shot average (2.8) and 20th in field goal percentage (.496).

“He had an incredible presence about him, arguably the best athlete in the Big East his senior year,” said former teammate David Graves, who served as team captain alongside Humphrey and classmate Harold Swanagan in 2001-02.

The former power forward often paired his 1,000-watt smile and easy-going disposition with a relentless work ethic and drive to dominate games.

“Don’t let that smile fool you,” Graves cautioned. “When it was time to compete, he would compete. You could always tell when those competitive juices kicked in.”

Nowhere was that more evident than during a 2001-02 regular-season game at Miami (Ohio). Two days prior to the early-December trip to Oxford, Ohio, Humphrey was ruled out with a stress reaction in his lower left leg. Brey figured that Humphrey might miss as many as three weeks.

Humphrey then started against the RedHawks, played all 40 minutes and finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and a career-high six assists in a 70-69 Irish win.

“That was one of many instances where he just battled through everything and was out there dunking on dudes,” Jones said. “He led by example with that work ethic. He brought that competitor out in you.”

Humphrey did it just by competing, and expecting much of the same from his basketball brothers.

“He was a fierce competitor with movie-star good looks and that charm and charisma,” said former Irish teammate Jordan Cornette. “But he had that competitiveness of a warrior.

“He brought it every day.”

That included working in the role of captain during the 2001-02 season, when he helped lead the Irish to a 22-11 record, 10-6 in the Big East and near-upset of top-ranked Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament. After that season ended, Humphrey admitted to Brey that being a captain was the hardest job he ever had, in part because he had to be on every day.

“He made guys believe in him with how he led,” Jones said. “He wore a lot of different hats. You were ready to go to battle with him.”

Following a professional career that included stops in the NBA, the Development League, Europe and numerous other foreign ports of call including Argentina, Cyprus and Puerto Rico, Humphrey called it quits after his knees did in 2013. One of the first stops he made in his post-playing career pursuit was Notre Dame in October 2013. He sought Brey’s counsel on how to go about getting his coaching career started.

Humphrey has spent the last two seasons at Northwestern, where he replaced another former Irish, guard Chris Quinn, on Collins’ staff.

The 2016-17 season will be the first time since 2009-10 that the Irish coaching staff will be different. Different, but familiar. Notre Dame familiar.

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Former Irish forward Ryan Humphrey will return to Notre Dame as an assistant coach (SBT File Photo).