Former Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem sets sights on becoming a basketball pro

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHICAGO – Time spent working in his sanctuary helped former Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem heal a wound that had once cut deep.

When last seen inside a basketball setting prior to Thursday’s opening day of five-on-five play at the NBA Combine, Beachem was as down as he’d ever been during his collegiate career. Dealing with the season-ending loss to West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Beachem talked barely above a whisper that Saturday afternoon back in Buffalo, N.Y.

At a time when he needed to deliver, Beachem didn't. That would linger. For months. Maybe years.

Turns out it was only for a few weeks.

Returning to campus and able to clear his head of that postseason clutter by taking 10 days off to decompress, Beachem got back in the gym and got back to ripping off jumper after jumper after jumper without a miss. His stroke felt good. He felt even better. The more shots he made, the more he let go of his personal March sadness.

In less than 14 days, those frustrating two games at KeyBank Center were all but wiped clean. Going 3-for-23 from the field and 1-of-12 from 3 was a distant memory as Beachem set his sights on preparing for next month’s NBA draft.

“Once I got back into a rhythm as far as working out, I just kind of flushed it and got back to my true self,” Beachem said Thursday evening during his media interview session at Quest Multisport on the west side of Chicago. “I got back into the gym and got back into my rhythm.”

Still, the thought of how it ended in an Irish uniform isn’t far from Beachem’s mind. When not fielding some rather ridiculous queries – Disney World or Disneyland? Possible draft-night attire? – he was asked about his one disappointment of this past winter.

Beachem’s response? His senior season.

Beachem averaged career bests for points (14.5) rebounds (4.1) and minutes (34.2). He set individual bests for blocks (38) and steals (33) on a Notre Dame team that finished 26-10, was one win shy of sharing the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship and played for a conference tournament title for the second time in three years.

Where’s the disappointment in that?

“I could have played more consistently and at a higher level,” Beachem said. “Then just the way it ended, it was terrible.

“If I had I played the same way in the NCAA Tournament as I did the year before, I would have been fine with my senior year.”

Being better

When Beachem returned to the court for workouts earlier this spring, he added some new wrinkles to his old routines. He doesn’t want to be known as just a guy who stands beyond the 3-point arc and fires up shots. In relocating his training near Santa Barbara, Calif., Beachem worked to improve his ball-handling skills and add a few more pounds and muscle to a 6-foot-8 frame that played at well under 200 his senior season.

Just walking into the Quest main gym, Beachem looked different. Bigger. Thicker. Fuller. Beachem has gained eight pounds, and could afford to add about five more.

“I’d like to play at 205,” he said. “That would be a good weight to play at.”

In addition to hoisting at least 500 shots a day, Beachem’s also worked on becoming a better defender. A more consistent defender. He got in a stance and stayed there. That’s a part of his game that he didn’t always show in college, but that was sometimes part of the plan.

“No offense to the way we played at Notre Dame, but it was kind of hardtop sit down and defend when you’re playing for 38 minutes,” said Beachem. “It’s a little different now playing in spurts to be able to sit down and defend.”

On Thursday, he did that well. With eight prospects on each team all wanting to give scouts a good look, players were limited to shifts of five, six, seven minutes. The shorter spurts allowed Beachem to pay greater attention to defensive detail.

At one point early in the second half, Beachem jumped a passing lane out of a halfcourt set and deflected a pass. He nearly ran over Irish assistant coach Ryan Ayers seated in the front row chasing down the loose ball.

The effort drew praise from his coach, former NBA standout Tim Hardaway, who was on Beachem for much of the second half to defend and rebound, to rebound and defend. Every possession.

“Teams notice when I’m locked in defensively,” Beachem said. “I’m a pretty good defender. The key is staying locked in no matter what.”

That defense helped Beachem kick-start his offensive game. He got out in the open court and finished with a pair of layups during an active three-minute sequence.

The first time he touched the ball, he showed no signs of being as tentative about his shot as he was in Buffalo. Working off a screen by teammate and former North Carolina power forward Kennedy Meeks, Beachem shook his defender – another former conference colleague in Miami’s Davon Reed – and delivered a step-back jumper that drew nothing but net.

It had a nice, soft arc to it, something that many of Beachem’s line-drive offering seldom had. He’s also worked on that.

“That definitely helps me when I’m tired,” he said.

Later in the first half of Thursday’s scrimmage, Beachem took a pass from Kennedy Meeks and had a quick look at a clean corner 3. Instead, he shot-faked his defender, took a couple dribbles, then passed to a teammate. The possession eventually ended in a turnover.

On the way back downcourt, Meeks looked at Beachem and held up three fingers. The message? Shoot that when you’ve got it.

Beachem nodded.

He finished with seven points and three rebounds in 19 minutes. On Friday, he followed with three points, four rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes.

“You just have to be yourself and for V.J., he’s never too high, never too low; he’s just steady,” said Ayers. “You have to earn your stripes by playing hard and doing the little stuff.”

The next steps

Though still played by a bunch of college kids, the game really changed Thursday and Friday for Beachem in Chicago. The 3-point line is deeper; the lane is wider. Everything moves at a pace far quicker and more urgent than college. It can be a tough adjustment, and one that has to be made with a who’s who of basketball – Larry Bird seated front and center on one baseline, Magic Johnson on the other – Tom Thibodeau and John Paxson at opposite ends of one sideline – watching your every move.

It can be a little intimidating for guys like Beachem who hope to do enough in the next month to solidify a second-round slot in the 60-pick selection process.

Considered a possible second-round selection, Beachem was not listed among the original 67 invitees when the Combine list was released earlier this month. But when a host of likely top picks – Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum – declined their audition invitations, Beachem was bumped into the main group.

It wasn’t something he took lightly, especially after declaring last season but not being invited.

“I just want to make the most of the opportunity,” Beachem said.

Opportunity will extend beyond this week in Chicago. Beachem is scheduled to visit the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks next week, then return to campus May 21 for graduation. Less than 24 hours later, he’s scheduled to be in Los Angeles for a workout with the Lakers.

“From here on out, he’s working on himself and his own personal company,” Ayers said. “As long as he prepares to go for it, he’ll be good.”

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A look at how former Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem fared this week during the NBA Combine individual testing in advance of the June 22 draft.

Position: Shooting guard/Small forward

Height (without shoes): 6’6.25”

Height (with shoes): 6’8’’

Weight: 193.4 pounds

Body Fat: 6.8 percent

Hand length: 8.50

Hand width: 9.0

Standing reach: 8’8.5”

Wingspan: 6’10.25”

Lane agility: 11.18 seconds

Shuttle run: 3.19

Three-quarter sprint: 3.26

Standing vertical: 30.0 inches

Max vertical: 37.0