Time for Notre Dame, rookie assistants to hit recruiting trail

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

He’s never spent all day in a suffocating gym wanting and wishing for some fresh air while watching guys run up and down the floor until his eyes blurred and his backside burned.

He’s never had to get from one game to another way across town while hoping his GPS was on point. He’s never left one last game somewhere late at night, only to realize he has no idea the make or model or color or current parking spot of the rental car.

When the all-important 15-day July evaluation window opens Wednesday for college basketball coaches, first-year Notre Dame assistant Ryan Humphrey gets to experience all that and more during his first taste of recruiting for his alma mater.

All of it could be a little daunting for a rookie assistant. Except Humphrey, a former Irish standout power forward and first-round NBA draft pick, plans to play a certain recruiting card.

He believes he can relate to today’s prospects because he was one of them yesterday. He’s ready to roll on the recruiting road because he not only has something to sell (a Notre Dame education) but something to say.

“I’m excited to recruit because I don’t have to tell anyone else’s story,” said Humphrey, hired last month by coach Mike Brey. “I can tell my story and what this place has done for me in my life and my family and my friends.”

Those friends include some of Humphrey’s former teammates. Like coordinator of basketball operations Harold Swanagan, whom Humphrey still considers a brother. Like former small forward David Graves, who served as team captain alongside Humphrey and Swanagan during their senior seasons of 2001-02 when Notre Dame came oh-so-close from beating top-seed Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve been around Harold Swanagan for a long time,” Humphrey said. “I’m going to tell that story and his story, tell David Graves’ story. I’m going to tell everybody’s story about Notre Dame.”

In the short time since he was hired, Humphrey has already laid the recruiting groundwork first set in spring by former Irish assistants Martin Ingelsby and Anthony Solomon. He's made some calls, tapped into some contacts and hopes to eventually extend the program’s recruiting footprint into untapped areas of the country he still knows best – into Oklahoma and Kansas and maybe even get a prospect or two out of Texas.

“I feel like I can go anywhere,” he said. “When I call people and tell them that this is Ryan Humphrey from Notre Dame, they call me right back because of what Coach Brey and this previous staff built.”

While Humphrey may take the Irish recruiting a new direction or two, fellow first-year assistant Ryan Ayers likely will concentrate on a familiar region – the Northeast’s Interstate 95 fertile corridor. Raised outside Philadelphia, Ayers knows the region well.

“It was Big East country for us, but now has shifted to ACC country with our relationships there,” Ayers said. “I hope I can step up and do the job.”

Job titles and responsibilities have changed a bit since the former Irish coaching staff last gathered following the 17-day spring evaluation period to plot out the July recruiting strategy. The lone holdover assistant, long-time aide Rod Balanis, has taken the recruiting baton from Ingelsby and run with it.

It’s been Balanis at the front of the room penning names onto the grease board, plotting out who’s going where and seeing whom. He’s taken on the added responsibility like an associate head coach.

Regardless of the staff turnover, the recruiting goal remains the same with the three scholarships Notre Dame currently can offer. Wings and bigs are primary needs. A point guard also may be possible.

While the 2017 class remain the priority, Brey and his staff already have a jump on 2018. Two prospects — guards Robbie Carmody (Mars, Pa.) and Tim Finke (Champaign, Ill.) — made unofficial campus visits late last month.

July recruiting has come a long way since the previous 28-day grind that once saw Brey return home only long enough to unpack and repack his suitcase on the trunk of his car at South Bend International Airport.

The current calendar is far more manageable.

Irish coaches will go out on three five-day stretches — July 6-10, 13-17 and 20-24. They can leave on Wednesdays and return on Sundays. Mondays are reserved for staff meetings to review and revise master lists. Tuesdays are set aside for the two-hour offseason practice time allowed by the NCAA before the cycle starts again.

Unlike Humphrey, Ayers has recruiting experience. Hired by former Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen in September 2014, Ayers missed the July evaluation period in his first season in Lewisburg, Pa. Last year was his first July go-round on the road. While former Irish players were competing in The Basketball Tournament on a team that he helped lead to the $500,000 first-place prize in 2014, Ayers couldn’t compete because he was out recruiting.

This month, he’ll do it sporting the Under Armour gear of his alma mater.

“There’s such a sense of pride wearing these colors again,” he said. “It’s an easy school for me to sell to recruits because I’ve seen it all. I was in their shoes once.”

Ayers and Humphrey understand that there are big recruiting shoes to fill. With Ingelsby and Solomon on staff the previous two years, Notre Dame landed Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan, all of whom were key pieces as underclassmen to two consecutive NCAA Tournament Elite Eight runs. Ingelsby and Solomon each helped in the recruitment of current freshmen T.J. Gibbs, Nikola Djogo and John Mooney.

Now it’s up to Ayers and Humphrey to keep the machine running at a high RPM.

“We both have chips on our shoulders,” Humphrey said. “That’s going to make us even hungrier to prove that we can continue what’s been but, but take it even further.

“I love Martin and I love Coach Solomon, but I think I can help Notre Dame get to that next step.”

A big one beckons this month.

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This is an important recruiting month for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and his new coaching staff, which including former Irish Ryan Ayers and Ryan Humphrey.Tribuen File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN