Notes: Spring practices start, recruiting revs up for Notre Dame men's basketball team

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Once the final chapter of a Notre Dame men’s basketball season is written, it doesn’t take long to start a new one.

On Monday, the Irish officially closed 2016-17 with “An Evening with Notre Dame Basketball” event. They honored the outgoing seniors, celebrated a 26-win season and offered thanks to any and all who made it possible.

By Tuesday afternoon, work toward 2017-18 was under way with the first unofficial practice of spring. It marked the first time the Irish were together as a team since about 2:30 p.m. on March 18 when Notre Dame was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament following a second-round loss to West Virginia.

Ten of the 14 faces that were in the locker room that Saturday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., are back, including seniors-to-be Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. But the whole dynamic has changed. In the locker room. On the practice court. Around the program.

Old, veteran faces leave. New, eager ones emerge. Colson and Farrell, two potential All-Atlantic Coast Conference preseason picks, will be the face of the program when fall arrives.

“We have a lot of veteran guys that can get to new heights, places that we haven’t been since I’ve been here,” said Colson, part of an Irish outfit that went to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight in each of his first two seasons. “We’re excited to have a group like this.”

As is coach Mike Brey, who enters his 18th season in South Bend 12 wins shy of becoming the all-time winningest coach in program history. Gone are seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia. Both will receive their undergraduate degrees next month and are on their own odysseys toward professional basketball careers.

Colson and Farrell are two givens to rotate into key roles. There are plenty of others capable of commanding similar respect. Like fifth-year-senior-to-be Austin Torres, junior-to-be Rex Pflueger and T.J. Gibbs, who did a lot as a freshman and is expected to do more as a sophomore.

“I’m always interested to see who the voices will be without Steve and V.J. around,” Brey said. “It’s always an interesting dynamic when you take those two guys out. We’ll see what it’s like.”

Farrell expected a loud and lively Tuesday session. Not just because of the loss to West Virginia, but without Beachem and Vasturia, there’s opportunity to step in and compensate for the 2,474 minutes, 995 points, 287 rebounds and 150 assists the two combined for as seniors.

“That’s tough when you lose a game in the NCAA Tournament and the season’s over,” Farrell said. “It takes a little bit to get over. But guys are going to compete. They’re going to go really hard. ... It will be nice for us to get on the court and get flowing with those guys.”

Recruiting roulette

Often in a fixed place this time of year, the Irish roster remains rather fluid as they work toward 2017-18.

With three scholarships available to add a late-rising high school senior, a traditional college transfer or graduate transfer, Brey is as open as he’s been in years to tinker with his roster.

“We are looking at everything,” he said. “We’re digging around a little bit. There’s still a lot of movement. We’ll probably go visit a transfer on Friday.”

Brey is prohibited under NCAA regulations from identifying who that potential transfer prospect might be, but when this month’s evaluation period reopens Friday, the staff likely will be headed to the northeast to visit Connecticut freshman center Juwan Durham.

The 6-foot-11, 220-pound Durham averaged 1.6 points and 1.5 minutes in 8.3 minutes over 28 games for the Huskies in ’16-’17. He shot 48.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the free throw line. He had nine blocks and 27 fouls.

Durham missed his senior season at Tampa (Fla.) Prep after a torn anterior cruciate in his left knee. He averaged 22.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks as a junior before a torn ACL in his right knee.

The Irish could add one transfer. Or two. The roster could stay at 10. It will remain a guessing game for the next few weeks, maybe months. That’s the current world of college basketball where guys leave early for the NBA and others look for new starts elsewhere.

“We’re all in roster management right now,” Brey said.

Next step

While the Irish practiced Tuesday afternoon, Vasturia headed to the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, a four-day event that features 64 college seniors looking to make a professional name for themselves.

Vasturia is on a Cherry DeKaeart team that includes Ohio State’s Marc Loving and Charles Cooke from Dayton. They open play Wednesday at 9 p.m.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Vasturia, who has talked with former teammate Pat Connaughton on what to expect from the PIT experience. “You just go in there and give everything you’ve got. The way I play, I have a chance to turn some heads.

“It will be nice to play some basketball again.”

Beachem was expected to join Vasturia in Virginia this week, but on the advice of his agent, Kevin Bradbury of the Bill Duffy Agency, decided to skip the showcase. Beachem will return to Southern California on Thursday to continue working toward a possible spot at the NBA’s pre-draft combine next month in Chicago. He’s projected as a possible late-second round pick in the June draft.

“If I get in there, I feel like I’ll test well and then go from there,” Beachem said. “I’m in great hands with BDA. They’ve been very successful with guys in my position, that 40-50 range. I’m excited about it.”

Odd evening

Having received his scholarship release 13 days earlier to explore a transfer, forward Matt Ryan was not expected to attend Monday’s event. But when the players were introduced to the audience by class, Ryan was included with the current sophomores.

He sat amongst the Irish on the dais for the awards presentation before Brey addressed him at the end of the program.

“I would like to say to Matt Ryan, Matt, you have been a big part of two great teams here,” Brey said. “You’ll always be a part of this family.”

One that Ryan feels he has to leave to maximize his college potential. He averaged 3.6 points and 0.9 rebounds in 7.9 minutes this past season. The 6-7 Ryan appeared in all 36 games and seemed poised to challenge for major minutes in ’17-’18. But ….

“For Matt, it’s a little crowded on the perimeter,” Brey said. “There’s no sure thing for like, Vasturia minutes or Beachem minutes. You can’t guarantee anybody anything. He felt it was a little risky.

“We’ll miss him. We still have pretty good players.”

Ryan, who declined media interviews Monday, visited Vanderbilt last weekend and may still see a school or two. He will sit out 2017-18 and have two years of eligibility remaining.

“He’ll find the right spot,” Brey said.

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