Notre Dame men's basketball bids good-bye to V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, hello again to Bonzie Colson
SOUTH BEND – It had become the one night that Steve Vasturia dreaded as a member of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program.
Sitting on a raised dais inside Heritage Hall alongside his Irish teammates, Vasturia would listen to that season’s seniors give their farewell speeches as part of an “Evening with Notre Dame Basketball.”
Vasturia sat and watched as Eric Atkins and Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman spoke his freshman year. Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant followed when he was a sophomore. Last year, it was Zach Auguste and A.J. Burgett who summed up their four years with words. Vasturia didn't want to ever do it.
It wasn’t that Vasturia feared public speaking, although he’d rather pass on the chance to say something in front of a large group. It was knowing that when that early-April night arrived for him to say something, it meant that the curtain on his college basketball career had closed.
On Monday, Vasturia stepped to the mic as the night’s final speaker and talked about his last four years. They meant a lot. On a personal level. On a basketball level.
“This has been the perfect fit,” said Vasturia, who leaves alongside classmate V.J. Beachem having helped their class tie the school record for wins in a four-year period at 97. “I never really wanted to leave this place. There’s not many places like Notre Dame. I’ve given everything I’ve had to this school.”
Beachem and Vasturia, who both plan to play professionally, leave Notre Dame having won a staggering seven NCAA Tournament games. For all the names and numbers of guys that have passed through the program over the last 100-plus years, only Bruce Flowers has won as many. Nobody has won more.
“These are two of the greatest winners in the history of our program,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “And fun guys to coach.”
Both were recognized Monday with captain's awards.
For Beachem, it wasn’t always about basketball, though it became a big part of his college existence. It was about cementing relationships with guys like Atkins, now the team’s video coordinator and former Irish power forward Harold Swanagan, now the director of basketball operations. The two, as well as a host of former teammates, became the brothers that Beachem, an only child, never had. And that was pretty powerful about what Notre Dame meant to him and his four years.
The points and wins and basketball success was nice, but it wasn’t everything.
“It was the people that you meet,” Beachem said. “It’s unlike any place in the world.”
Monday was for celebrating Beachem and Vasturia and graduate student Patrick Mazza, a walk-on power forward, and to look back on the 26 wins the Irish racked up this winter.
And then earlier in the day, the Irish won again in another way. A big way. Power forward Bonzie Colson, who did just about everything in his bust-out junior campaign, took to Twitter to announce that he would return for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NBA.
“I knew I wanted to come back,” Colson said. “I was a four-year guy. That was my goal here. I’m happy I’m here. It’s a place that I love.
“I know I have a lot of things to work on in my game.”
Colson announced in a Twitter post around 2 p.m. Monday that he indeed would follow through on his intention to play four years at Notre Dame.
“Bonzie was very level-headed,” Brey said. “You just don’t go test the waters to how you would do. You don’t go in that thing unless you’re trying to be a first-round pick.
“To his credit, he couldn’t get there mentally.”
A first team all-league pick, Colson led all ACC players with 19 double doubles for points (17.8) and rebounds (10.1). He has 24 for his career. Colson was the only player in the league to average a double double this season.
He also became the first league player under 6-foot-7 to lead the league in rebounding since North Carolina’s Pete Brennan in 1958.
Colson was an all-district and third team Associated Press All-American selection. He took home team most valuable player honors Monday, and could well do it again next spring.
“He’s got a chance to be one of our all-time greats,” Brey said. “I signed a heck of a recruit today getting him back.”
It will be a busy week for Vasturia. While the returning Irish hold their first practice Tuesday afternoon with an eye toward 2017-18, he’ll be on a plane headed for coastal Virginia. Vasturia will participate in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, the NBA’s pre-draft showcase that starts Wednesday.
"I'm excited to just keep playing," Vasturia said. "I love playing the game and have a chance to make some money. I'll go wherever they'll have me."
Beachem was expected to also participate in Portsmouth, but will not. Instead, he’s been training for the last week for next month’s NBA Combine along with former AAU teammate and Wisconsin power forward Nigel Hayes in Santa Barbara, Calif. He returns to the West Coast later this week.
“It’s going great now,” Beachem said. “I’m very excited to round my game out. I can only go up from here.”
Picked in preseason to finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and slotted in some polls as low as 11th in the 15-team league, Notre Dame’s chase to a possible share of the league’s regular-season conference crown went down to the final day. The Irish (26-10; 12-6 ACC) then advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament a third straight year, and played in the conference championship for the second time in three years.
Notre Dame has gone to the NCAA Tournament each of the last three years. Expectations come fall to make it four in a row will be enormous even without Beachem and Vasturia.
“As far as next year,” Brey said Monday to close the 70-minute award program, “I think we’ve got a shot.”