Notre Dame's Matt Ryan carries more confidence into sophomore season

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Everything about the jumper still looks as if it was pulled from the pages of a Basketball 101 textbook.

Shoulders and feet squared to the basket. Eyes locked on the rim. A release that’s high and true and the same with near-perfect rotation every time. Each offering looks like it will nestle quickly and confidently into the basket. Many do.

Everything about the shot seems the same for Notre Dame sophomore-to-be Matt Ryan, except that the shot this summer was absent the weight of expectations.

That wasn’t always the case last season when Ryan, who arrived with the reputation of a 3-point specialist, felt the pressure to do what he did best.

Ryan first started wondering in July 2015 where he might best fit within an Irish offense that featured veteran low-post presence Zach Auguste, experienced wing V.J. Beachem, energy guy Bonzie Colson, point guard Demetrius Jackson and steady Steve Vasturia.

Were there enough minutes and shots to go around? And if there were, would Ryan deliver?

It often messed with his mind.

“Last summer, there were a lot of question marks,” Ryan said last month during the team’s final practice session of the summer. “Where am I going to play? Am I going to come off the bench? I hope I play in this game. I hope I hit some shots.

“Now everyone is expecting me to hit shots.”

Ryan’s shots didn’t fall with the consistency he needed last season. He connected on 41.7 percent from the field, 37.4 percent from 3. He averaged 5.1 points. Sometimes, he would shoot early – he took the opening shot of the win at Duke, missed and never shot again. Sometimes, he would shoot often - he hit 4-of-6 from 3 for a career-high 17 points in the regular-season finale against North Carolina State.

Most times, he just wasn’t as confident as he needed to be in his game. That changed during the spring and summer workouts as Ryan played with more of a belief that he belonged.

“Confidence really comes from practice,” he said. “You hit shots in practice, you know you’re going to hit them in the games.”

Confidence also comes from knowing what to expect the second time around. One year as a small forward in the Atlantic Coast Conference convinced Ryan that he was too small. He played last season with 217 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame. He’s up to 229, but doesn’t feel any added sluggishness.

With Auguste gone, Ryan also will be expected to carry more of a rebounding load. And he can. He grabbed a career-best seven rebounds in his first start last season. He’s also worked to be a better defender. But at the end of the day, and the game, it’s Ryan’s shot that will keep him on the floor more than the 14.5 minutes last season.

He knows patience is again a buzzword, but….

“I want to get in there,” he said, “and light it up.”

 Recruiting doings

With the fall semester start around the corner (first day of class is Aug. 23), the next phase of recruiting – official fall visits – is about to get rolling.

The opening of official visits from high school seniors will coincide with the first Notre Dame home football game Sept. 10 against Nevada.

Though wings, a big man and maybe a point guard remain recruiting targets, the Irish wish list looks a little different coming clear of the July evaluation period with new assistants Ryan Ayers and Ryan Humphrey than it did in the spring when former assistants Martin Ingelsby and Anthony Solomon were on staff.

Out is three-star power forward Xavier Tillman (Grand Rapids Christian). In are two prospects from the I-95 corridor – 6-10 power forward Luka Garza (ranked a four-star prospect by Scout and Rivals) from Washington and 6-4 combo guard Darryl Morsell (no stars) from Baltimore.

Morsell attends the same high school – Mount Saint Joseph – as former Irish point guard and current video coordinator Eric Atkins.

“We’ve got a couple new names,” said coach Mike Brey. “I always worry this time of year of having recruiting depth (but) we’re getting some bodies to add to that list.

“That makes me feel better.”

The Irish also remain in the mix for five-star power forward prospect Jaren Jackson. He played last season at Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, but will spend his senior year at LaLumiere in LaPorte.

Notre Dame enters the 2016-17 recruiting cycle with three scholarships to offer prep prospects.

European seasoning

Two years ago this month, Notre Dame embarked on a critical 10-day foreign tour of Italy. Coming clear of a 15-17 season the previous winter, the trip was crafted to get the Irish confidence back on track.

Notre Dame then won its four exhibitions by an average of 44 points to springboard into a season that would see it go 32-6, win the ACC league tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight for the first time since 1979.

Italy was a big kick-start. Can it be again?

Two Irish juniors penciled in as starters – point guard Matt Farrell and power forward Martinas Geben – return to Italy this month as part of the USA East Coast Basketball All-Stars.

Coached by Guy Rancourt of Division II Lycoming (Pa.) College, the team will play four exhibition games against European teams between Aug. 6 and 13. The Irish teammates are the only ACC players on the 10-man team.

Farrell and Geben were freshmen on the 2014-15 Irish squad that toured Italy.

Rancourt knows the Irish program well. Beachem, Jack Cooley, Tom Knight and Scott Martin all played for the East Coast All-Stars.

Tres hombres

In the late-May days before the hiring of Ayers and Humphrey, Brey first called his three designated captains – Beachem, Colson and Vasturia.

Don’t worry about who he was going to hire, Brey told them, because those three were going to have a strong leadership say. Those three, not the new assistants, would help Brey run this group.

So far, so good.

“I’m more comfortable with our leadership with those three guys in July than I was with Jackson and Auguste last year,” Brey said. “I was sure. Now, Jackson and Auguste did a better job than I thought (during the regular season) and I’m more proud of that than anything they did on the court.

“These three guys are really ready to do it now.”

Beachem and Colson will be first-time captains. Vasturia was named one heading into ACC play last January.

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