Ryan Humphrey brings contagious energy as Notre Dame coach

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Shuffled to the shadows while the Notre Dame men’s basketball team took center stage that fall day, former Irish power forward Ryan Humphrey watched everything unfold sporting his trademark smile.

But there was a certain sadness to Media Day 2013. Just when everything was starting anew for the Irish, it was ending for Humphrey, one of the most upbeat and energetic guys to ever pass through the program’s halls.

Having spent the previous 11 years playing professionally all over the world, Humphrey just couldn’t do it anymore. The legs that helped him become a first team All-Big East selection his senior season in 2001-02 and a first-round NBA draft pick that summer had finally had enough. His knees were shot. His game was too. It was time for Humphrey to pen his next chapter in life.

He stopped through Notre Dame that October day to discuss it with coach Mike Brey, who has long been a mentor to the Tulsa, Okla., native. Brey didn’t recruit Humphrey out of high school. He was still working at Delaware when Humphrey transferred to Notre Dame after two seasons at Oklahoma. But something in the relationship clicked, and an unbreakable bond formed.

Brey counseled Humphrey to coach. He did, though he was unsure of where it would lead him.

It’s led him is back to his alma mater.

When Notre Dame gathers in October for the team picture as part of Media Day 2016, Humphrey will be in the back row wearing a sharp suit and, of course, that smile.

“I’m here and it still doesn’t seem real,” Humphrey said of being added along with former Irish guard Ryan Ayers to Brey’s staff to replace departed assistants Martin Ingelsby (now the head coach at Delaware) and Anthony Solomon (Georgetown assistant). “I never thought I’d come back one day as a coach, but I’m fortunate to be a part of something that’s bigger than me.

“It’s amazing how God works and brings things to pass and how fast everything has happened.”

Gotta-get guy

Shortly after holding an impromptu state-of-the-program press conference after his staff was gutted last month, Brey took a quiet moment to outline his hiring hopes. He had a wish list of five former Irish that he wanted to speak with, and would do so in the coming days. But there was one name atop that list. One guy that Brey absolutely had to have to help an Irish program that had gone to consecutive NCAA Tournament Elite Eights take that next step.

Humphrey is considered a rising talent in the business after he spent the previous two seasons as director of player development at Northwestern. There, he worked for coach Chris Collins, who was recruited by Brey to Duke. Collins’ father, Doug, a former NBA player and coach, had watched Humphrey operate. He’s going to be a star, the elder Collins counseled Brey. Get him if you can.

When Brey called Humphrey in late May, he bypassed gauging his former player’s interest in the job, or asking if he’d even consider a move.

“He said, ‘Ryan, come home,’” Humphrey said before busting out his trademark laugh. “It was that that simple because of our relationship. I said, ‘When do you want me?’”

Less than 24 hours after Brey had publicly plotted his hiring course, one of the staff spots was already filled. Humphrey was coming home.

“Did I think it would happen this year?” said Humphrey, whose hiring was made official in early June. “No, but when the right opportunity came, I was going to be ready.”

Energy and enthusiasm

In one major way, it’s almost as if Humphrey never left.

During his senior season, Humphrey was consistently the first one on the practice court. Long before his coaches and teammates wandered down the tunnel from the locker room, he was hoisting jumpers, practicing free throws, running and working and sweating.

Nothing has changed as a coach.

When Notre Dame held its first summer workout earlier this month one night during camp week at the Rolfs Center, there was Humphrey dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and, maybe a first for an Irish assistant coach, high-top Under Armour sneakers. He poured over the practice plan, folded it length-wise and stuck it in the front of his shorts. Then he went to work.

“I was told that early in my career — never be the last one out for anything,” Humphrey said. “That shows the guys how bad I want it. I can’t ask these guys to do it if I’m not willing to do it.”

In one drill, Humphrey peppered the Irish power forwards with an assortment of passes — some high, some low, some left, some right, most hard to catch. The players were expected to snare and convert all for easy layups. Humphrey demanded that junior Martinas Geben, senior Austin Torres and freshman John Mooney go right up with the ball when they had it at the bucket — no more dribbling it once or twice near the rim. And if a drill wasn’t done right, they’d do it again until they got it.

“Game speed! Game speed!” Humphrey hollered over and over.

The Irish had no choice but to listen. Why? Humphrey’s been in their shoes. He did it here at a high level. He believes they can too.

“Every big man that goes to Notre Dame is going to want to follow in his footsteps and do what he did,” said former Irish teammate Matt Carroll. “He was such a workhorse. He has the resume. It’s a no-brainer that kids will want to learn from him.

“That is so, so, so big.”

For the better part of 75 minutes, Humphrey never stopped moving, never stopped talking, never stopped chattering. By the end of the workout, he looked spent. But he was still smiling.

“I’m hands-on,” Humphrey said. “That’s what I want to do. I’m going to challenge these guys to bring energy every day. It’s fun when you’re bringing that energy every day.”

“We’ve gone from the hunters to the hunted,” Humphrey said. “Notre Dame has done a lot of great things, but I want to be one of the guys to help the program take that next step.

“We’re close.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

The Humphrey File

Ryan Humphrey

AGE: 36.

HOMETOWN: Tulsa, Okla.

POSITION: Entering first season as Notre Dame assistant coach.

EXPERIENCE: Spent the last two seasons as director of player development at Northwestern after working one (2013-14) as volunteer assistant for coach Danny Manning at Tulsa.

NOTING: Humphrey scored 997 points with 597 rebounds and 166 blocked shots, third in school history, in 60 games over two seasons at Notre Dame (2001-02) after transferring from Oklahoma. … He was a team captain and most valuable player in 2002. … Former McDonald's High School All-American. ... Played professionally in the NBA, the NBA Development League and in Argentina, Cyprus, Italy, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela.

QUOTING: “As a teammate, you just gravitated toward him. He was able to walk that line between pushing you and challenging you and still being very likeable. He was such a natural leader.”

-Former Irish shooting guard Matt Carroll.