Notre Dame seniors V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia play final home game as quiet, consistent winners
SOUTH BEND – Two new faces arrived on campus around the time the Notre Dame men’s basketball program headed in a new direction.
It was the summer of 2013. Following 18 years in the Big East, the Irish took off for Tobacco Road and the Atlantic Coast Conference. That June, two freshmen – one from Fort Wayne, Ind., the other from Medford, N.J., - moved into a Keough Hall suite for summer school with big basketball plans.
Neither verbalized much of their blueprint with the other. They first met months earlier during their official campus visits, but even those unfolded in relative silence.
“I was like, ‘Hey, he’s kind of quiet like me,’” senior captain V.J. Beachem said of classmate and teammate Steve Vasturia. “He was a good player and a really good guy, but that was the No. 1 thing – he was really quiet.”
Both were. When they moved in that first summer, Beachem and Vasturia let their two roommates – teammates Demetrius Jackson and Austin Torres - do the talking. Mainly, it was Torres who kept the dialogue flowing among the four. Beachem, the Indiana kid, and Vasturia, the Jersey guy, kept mostly to themselves as the program headed for unchartered conference waters.
“V.J. and I got along right away,” Vasturia said. “But he was definitely on the quieter side. We’re pretty similar in the way we carry ourselves.”
Four years later, words likely won’t flow easily prior to Wednesday’s ACC game against Boston College (8 p.m., WMYS). Prior to tip of the final home game of the season for the No. 19 Irish (22-7; 11-5), Beachem and Vasturia will be honored as part of Senior Night.
The contributions of both to a program headed back to the NCAA tournament a third straight year, and one that still has an outside shot of sharing a slice of the ACC regular-season crown, have been critical.
“Steve and V.J. are two of the greatest winners in the history of this basketball program,” coach Mike Brey said of his two captains who have won 78 games and counting since 2014, the best three-year run in school history. “It’s a special night for those guys. It will be hard for me to watch them go out one last time.”
The first time in was hard for both. They will finish as the first Irish to play their entire four years in the ACC. That transition was trying. Notre Dame went 15-17 overall, 6-12 during their freshman years. Both played minimal roles on a team that never did figure it out. Beachem and Vasturia often were thrown into tough situations. They struggled. In any other year, they would have been given time to adjust and adapt their games.
As freshmen, they had no choice – sink or swim.
Among the ACC sharks, they swam. Then sank.
“After freshman year, wanting to win more games and take this program somewhere special, that’s helped us to really bond,” Vasturia said.
That bond was basic – be better. As players. As a program. Don’t talk about it. Work at it. If that meant staying in the gym longer than anyone else, so be it. They lost a lot that first year, but that wasn’t going to happen again if they had their say.
They had it.
Both got better. The program got better. It won 32 games. Then 24. Now 22 and counting. They’ve won double-digit league games each of the last three years and are on the doorstep of a third-straight double bye in the ACC tournament.
“It speaks to how you develop in our program.” Beachem said. “If you stick with it and stay steady, you can be successful here for yourself and the entire team.”
After that frustrating first year, Beachem and Vasturia have consistently – and quietly – checked many of the important boxes of their collegiate careers.
Both have scored over 1,000 points – Beachem is at 1,132, Vasturia 1,326. Both are rotation regulars. Wednesday is career game No. 126 for Beachem. Vasturia will make consecutive start No. 111, which ties him with former All-American Pat Garrity for third in program history. Beachem is headed toward 3,000 career minutes. Vasturia’s already over a staggering 4,100. They’ve beaten league gold standards Duke (five times) and North Carolina (three). They beat both on consecutive nights to win the 2015 ACC Championship. They’ve won a combined six NCAA tournament games each of the last two years and have taken Notre Dame to consecutive Elite Eights for the first time since 1978-79.
Need someone to make a big shot at a big moment? Watch Vasturia deliver (see Duke 2015, Pittsburgh 2017). Need someone to elevate his game to a really high level when needed? Watch Beachem deliver (2017 NCAA tournament).
“Steve’s my boy; V.J.’s been my boy,” said fellow captain Bonzie Colson, who has one year left before his Senior Day experience. “They’re my brothers. I’m going to miss them guys.”
Those men of today have come a long way since those boys as freshmen.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Vasturia said.
Beachem and Vasturia were part of a four-man recruiting class when they arrived. That’s since been sliced in half as they leave. Torres sat out his freshman year on the five-year plan. Jackson left a year early for the NBA. His departure allowed Beachem and Vasturia to tighten their relationship.
Jackson had long been the conduit between both.
“When Demetrius left, we knew it was our chance to be captains and lead this team,” Vasturia said. “It was kind of up to us and we’ve taken a lot of pride in that.”
It started last summer during pickup games. It’s understood that the senior captains select the teams. Each night after Beachem tabbed his guys and Vasturia grabbed his, the two often wound up guarding one another. Rarely did that happened in-season; both always were on the same side. Rarely did that not happen in the summer when No. 3 looked for No. 32. Guarded him. Pushed him to be better. And vice versa.
“It was very beneficial for us,” Beachem said.
Senior leadership was bound to bring both a new set of challenges. It did. After sprinting to a 5-0 start in league play, the Irish lost four in a row and five of six. Still, Beachem and Vasturia knew they had to be the face of the program. Seldom were one of the two not the first to face reporters before practice.
In seasons past, they could stay in the locker room or slip quietly past the media as the veterans answered questions. Not this year. They were the veterans. Even if their games were down, they had to keep their chins up.
They weren’t just doing it for themselves. They were doing it for the 12 other guys in the locker room. For the guys that came before them like Eric Atkins (now the team’s video coordinator) and Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant. And for the guys that will follow in their footsteps in future seasons.
“It’s because of those guys, because of the program, because of the goals we have, there was never a day when you could pout or let them see you with your head down,” Beachem said. “It’s definitely not easy.”
And that’s OK.
“That’s part of the game,” Vasturia said. “That’s part of life.”
Life will go on for both whenever this season ends. It will be hard on Beachem, an only-child who refers to his teammates as his brothers. That first day without practice, without the guys, will be the first day it hits Vasturia that it really is all over. No more time with the guys on the court. Or in the locker room. Both will graduate with degrees from the Mendoza College of Business. Both want to play professionally.
How do both want to be remembered Wednesday as they walk out of the tunnel near the Irish bench with their families?
Not by their words, by their work.
“We don’t care how the job was done, we just wanted to win basketball games,” Beachem said. “Whatever it took. That’s what we wanted to be remembered for.
“We’ve accomplished some great things. But we’re not done yet.”
WHO: No. 19 Notre Dame (22-7 overall; 11-5 ACC) vs. Boston College (9-20; 2-14).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).
WHEN: Wednesday at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: The game is a sellout.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.
NOTING: With two regular-season games remaining, Notre Dame is tied for second place in the ACC; Boston College is in 15th. … Boston College sophomore guard Jerome Robinson scored 25 points and freshman Ky Bowman added 16 in a 91-75 home loss Saturday to Virginia Tech. The Hokies scored 53 points in the second half. They shot 67.4 percent from the floor, 66.7 percent from 3 and 85 percent from the foul line in the game. … Robinson ranks third in the league in scoring (19.4 ppg.). … The Eagles have lost 12 in a row since a Jan. 11 home win over North Carolina State. … Boston College opened league play Jan. 1 with a home win over Syracuse. … The Irish have won five straight since their last loss, Feb. 5 to No. 5 North Carolina in Greensboro. … The Eagles are 0-7 on the road in ACC play. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 18-10. The Irish have won eight in a row and all seven meetings as ACC colleagues. … Boston College is one of four repeat opponents for Notre Dame. … The Eagles have won fewer than 10 overall games in three of the previous five seasons. … These teams meet for the second time in 15 days following an 84-76 Irish victory in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Feb. 14. Notre Dame trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, where it allowed a season high 49 points. The Irish scored 45 in the second half. Bonzie Colson led Notre Dame with 20 points and six rebounds. Point guard Matt Farrell, a one-time Boston College commitment, added 19 points and three rebounds. … The Irish enter the final week of the regular season the national leader in free throw percentage (81.5). … Wednesday is the seventh sellout of the season for Notre Dame, all in league play. The Irish are 6-2 at home in league play, 15-2 overall. … Notre Dame closes the regular season Saturday at No. 8 Louisville.
QUOTING: “It hit me the other day. We don’t have that many more games left. You just want to make the most of the time that you have left.”
• Notre Dame senior captain V.J. Beachem.
QUOTING II: “I try not to think about that this is the end. I really want to continue playing as long as we can.”
• Notre Dame senior captain Steve Vasturia.