Notre Dame's Matt Ryan on recovery road

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Blame it on a broken nose.

The first few weeks of college basketball practice limited Notre Dame sophomore swingman Matt Ryan in what he could offer. Instead of running the floor, battling for rebounds and knocking down another 3-point shot from distance, Ryan spent much of the sessions on the sideline.

Away from the action, he would pedal furiously on the dreaded stationary bike. While the rest of his teammates could run and cut and jump and shoot and pass, Ryan was stuck looking like he was preparing more for the Tour de France than his second season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

For that, he can thank a wayward elbow to his face over the summer.

Following six weeks of summer school in South Bend, Ryan headed home to Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. His plan was to work out daily at nearby Iona College. One day while playing one-on-one, Ryan, who had already been nursing a sore groin, took an elbow to the face, which busted his nose.

Surgery wasn’t immediately required, but to play it safe, Ryan couldn't do much workout-wise the rest of the summer. He had to just heal.

When he returned to campus for the start of the fall semester, he felt like it had been years since he had been on the court. He played to make up for lost time.

It nearly cost him after suffering a stress reaction in his right foot.

“Getting back into full-go, going hard, cutting, sliding, it made it flare up,” Ryan said. “I thought it would go away, but after a week, it didn’t go away at all.”

The more Ryan played, the more his foot throbbed. But not at first. He’d get through a workout or a conditioning session, and all would seem and feel fine. Then….

“I would sit down for a few minutes and then get up and walk around and it would be excruciating pain,” he said.

A trip to the doctor delivered the stress reaction diagnosis. Ryan’s foot was placed immediately in a walking boot. He sometimes got around campus by scooter. But it could have been a lot worse.

“They said that if I had played on it another week it would have been a stress fracture,” Ryan said. “That would have cost me a couple months.”

Instead, Ryan was limited to a few weeks. Just prior to coach Mike Brey giving his team four days off for fall break, Ryan received full medical clearance to return to workouts with no limitations.

“It feels really good,” Ryan said. “I’m ready to go.”

But go where? Ryan is considered a key rotation guy, but he plays the same position as senior captain V.J. Beachem, the team’s best player and a guy who will demand major minutes. Listed at 6-foot-7, 228 pounds, one inch shorter than last season. Ryan has the body and build to battle on the boards the way he did last season in his first career start when he grabbed a career-best seven rebounds in a career-high 35 minutes against Georgia Tech.

Ryan averaged 5.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes last season. He shot 41.7 percent from the floor and 37.4 percent from 3.

Beachem may need a break for six, maybe seven minutes a game this season. If Ryan and Beachem both play together, that would mean a heavy helping of a four-around-one look featuring only one big – either Bonzie Colson or Martinas Geben.

“We do need him,” Brey said of Ryan. “But we’re not going to rush him back.”

Ryan is concerned more with getting back into game-ready shape than he is about how he fits. He knows he’ll get his chances. It’s important he delivers.

“It’s a long season, a long process,” he said. “ACC play, the NCAA Tournament, that’s the prime of our season. If I can be 100 percent with no setbacks by Thanksgiving, I should be ready to go.”

Irish picked seventh

A combined 25 league wins the last two years and consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight didn’t mean much for Notre Dame during the ACC’s annual Operation Basketball (i.e. media day) Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.

The Irish were picked in the preseason poll to finish seventh in the 15-team league (see box).

It matches the lowest that Notre Dame, which won 11 league games last year and 14 the prior year, has been picked in preseason as it begins its fourth year in the ACC.

In 2013, Notre Dame was fifth in preseason, then lost do-everything guard Jerian Grant to an academic issue and went 6-12 before finishing 13th. In 2014, the Irish were picked seventh, then finished third. Last year, coming off its first Elite Eight since 1979 and first-ever ACC Tournament championship, Notre Dame was slotted fourth. The Irish finished fifth, then received the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament after Louisville’s self-imposed post-season tournament ban stemming from NCAA infractions.

No Irish earned first or second team all-league, player of the year or rookie of the year preseason honors Wednesday.

Brey knew back in June that when the league’s preseason poll was crafted, he’d see Notre Dame ranked in the middle of the pack. And that’s OK.

“We’re down there in the ACC standings again and I’m loving it,” he said. “People see us lose two more guys (Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson), but they forget that we still have some guys back who have won a (heck) of a lot.

“We’re just going to hide down there. We know how to do that dance really well, don’t we?”

Notre Dame was represented in Charlotte by Brey and seniors Beachem and Steve Vasturia, both expected to be named captains in the coming days.

Traveling trouble

Back during Notre Dame’s latter days in the Big East, all the rage was about cleaning up the sometimes rough and tumble times in the paint. A few years later, it was all about zeroing in on the block-charge call, especially at the rim around the newly-created restricted area arc.

This year, traveling takes center stage when it comes to the latest point of emphasis set to be enforced by college officials.

Sloppy feet, whether sliding or pivoting or the oft-used Euro-step to create space, no longer will be tolerated.

When Brey brought in officials for his team’s first intrasquad scrimmage this fall, referees called the Irish for five traveling violations.

The message? Slow down.

“Every team is playing too fast,” Brey said. “We need to be better at that.”

Perpetrators include starters and reserves alike. Beachem and point guard Matt Farrell have been too quick with their first steps and have been called on it. Freshman guard Nikola Djogo has been whistled using the Euro-step to get to the basket. Everyone, it seems, has been tagged.

Everyone except one.

“Vasturia never walks,” Brey insisted. “I just have him demonstrate all day.”

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• ACC Operation Basketball

2016-17 Preseason Poll

(First-place votes in parenthesis)

1. Duke (85)

2. North Carolina (6)

3. Virginia

4. Louisville

5. Syracuse

6. North Carolina State

7. Notre Dame

8. Florida State

9. Miami

10. Virginia Tech

11. Clemson

12. Pittsburgh

13. Wake Forest

14. Georgia Tech

15. Boston College

• 2016-17 Preseason All-ACC Team

First Team

Grayson Allen, Duke; Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson; Joel Berry II, North Carolina; London Perrantes, Virginia; Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State.

Second Team

Justin Jackson, North Carolina; Jayson Tatum, Duke; Tyler Lydon, Syracuse; Dwayne Bacon, Florida State; Michael Young, Pittsburgh;

• ACC Preseason Player of the Year: Grayson Allen, Duke

• ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State