Analysis: Recruiting about to get really interesting for Mike Brey, Notre Dame men's basketball

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

When it comes to a college basketball recruiting compass, the Notre Dame needle has been pointed in one direction since the spring of 2011.

After landing Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman that April, the program has focused solely on identifying and signing high school seniors.

That may soon change. Has to.

If college recruiting is indeed a circus, Irish coach Mike Brey may be ready to step into a role as master juggler. Only instead of trying to keep the knives or chainsaws in the air at once, he’s doing it with three basketballs – of course, they’re Wilson basketballs. Each represent a different way for Brey to restock his basketball roster.

A point guard, a couple of bigs and a wing are on the go-get recruiting list. Brey could add a high school senior, a traditional transfer or go the graduate transfer route for the first time in school history.

Perhaps more than any other year, Notre Dame is open to any and all recruiting avenues to maintain what Brey wants and needs – an experienced, veteran roster than can handle the swings of success and setbacks that come in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

On Thursday, a 13-day recruiting window for college coaches opened. That allowed staffs out on the road en mass for the first time since fall. Following a brief recruiting dead period (April 10-13), two key evaluation weekends – April 21-23 and 28-30 – wrap the recruiting window.

With the Irish assistants having done much of the recruiting leg work the past few months, April is the time for Brey to really zero in and watch prospects on their recruiting wish list (see graphic box). The staff eventually will pare down its list to prospects they want to see when the 15-day July evaluation periods arrive.

Determinations are made off that on who to bring to campus for official visits, which coincide with home football weekends, leading into November’s early-signing period.

Given the three scholarships remaining from the previous recruiting cycle, coupled with the four-man senior class in 2017-18, Notre Dame can offer a whopping seven scholarships to current high school juniors. That’s just way too many.

Notre Dame has never signed more than four in a given class during Brey’s tenure. It last happened in 2013-14. Of those, only two – V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia – exhausted their eligibility within four years.

In 2018-19, Notre Dame will have only six players – two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores – on its roster. That’s not how Brey prefers to stay old. A quick way to do it – the transfer route – beckons.

It’s an avenue that wasn’t really open to Notre Dame before 1999 when McDonald’s All-American Ryan Humphrey, now an Irish assistant, arrived after two years at Oklahoma. Sometimes, it hasn’t worked (Dennis Latimore) or has had mixed reviews (Sherman). Most of the time, it has been a real boost (Ben Hansbrough, Humphrey, Scott Martin, Dan Miller).

Monitoring the transfer market has become a day-by-day and often an hour-by-hour exercise. Last year, more than 700 Division I players transferred. Notre Dame receives its share of inquiries from players seeking fresh starts. This spring is no exception.

The Irish could use a transfer big man. Or a point guard who can be ready in 2018.

A transfer best suits Brey’s roster blueprint. The player would spend 2017-18 adjusting to the Notre Dame way and growing his game in the Irish basketball laboratory. When next season’s four seniors graduate, he’s ready to roll.

Beachem and Vasturia graduate in May. Both exhausted their eligibility this past season. Sophomore forward Matt Ryan has been granted his release and is exploring a transfer. Barring any other roster moves, Notre Dame has 10 returning scholarship players for 2017-18.

It's the sixth time in what will be Brey’s 18th season that Notre Dame carries 10 scholarship players to start a year. The last time a similar situation occurred – signing one prospect to bump the Irish roster to 10 – was in 2011-12. Notre Dame went 22-12, 13-5 in the Big East and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Signing a late-rising high school senior or adding a graduate transfer who would be immediately eligible also remain spring/summer options. Both could offer immediate depth in 2017-18. But both also come with caution.

Having 10 on scholarship is enough for Brey, who prefers a tight rotation that seldom stretches past eight. The 2017-18 Irish will be built around power forward Bonzie Colson (he is expected to return) and point guard Matt Farrell. Junior-to-be Rex Pflueger and sophomore-to-be T.J. Gibbs are prepared to make big leaps in terms of minutes and roles. Incoming freshman D.J. Harvey will push early for playing time.

Harvey arrives in June as the lone Irish recruit. It’s the third time in Brey’s tenure that he’s added one high school senior. But it’s a pretty good track record. Really good.

The other one-man classes were Pat Connaughton (2011) and Rob Kurz (2004). Connaughton played in the most games (139) in school history while Kurz was a quiet, consistent two-year captain. In each following recruiting cycle, Notre Dame signed four-man classes.

Martinas Geben and Austin Torres return as veteran bigs. Elijah Burns and John Mooney should be ready, as will wing Nikola Djogo, who sat out this season to grow his game.

Eight of those 10 will be rotation regulars. It will be hard for another true freshman to wedge his way into that mix.

And going the graduate transfer route is a tricky test for Brey, who places a high value on locker room chemistry. A graduate transfer, especially a big man graduate transfer, might help right away, but how quickly and seamlessly can he fit in off the floor? Is he on the lookout only for himself, or will he buy into a team concept, even though he’s with the team for basically less than a calendar year?

Like with transfers, Notre Dame has weighed the current group of graduate transfers, with no real good fit. Yet.

Now’s the time to roll the recruiting dice.

Directions …directions.

Decisions … decisions.

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Notre Dame coach Mike Brey has the chance to build his next recruiting class several differernt ways. (SBT Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)