Analysis: Big man Juwan Durham a big get for Notre Dame men's basketball program

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

It had been 1,373 days since it last happened for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

But who’s counting?

In the time between – through four college basketball seasons, just as many recruiting classes, three NCAA Tournament trips, two visits to the Elite Eight and one Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship - one question hovered over the Irish program the way that annoying perma-cloud envelopes Northern Indiana each winter.

When would Notre Dame get another big man?

Preferably someone large with a 10 or an 11 listed next to his height.

A couple of power forwards have signed since Notre Dame landed Martinas Geben on Sept. 6, 2013. But Elijah Burns and John Mooney don’t own the true low-post, back-to-the-basket, shot-blocking, rim-protecting, floor-running, Zach Auguste-like skills that fit in Mike Brey’s up-tempo system.

The guy that committed early Saturday morning does.

Nearly four years after getting Geben, who will be a senior and a projected starter this season, Notre Dame grabbed a big man in former Connecticut power forward Juwan Durham. Among the nearly 500 players seeking new college basketball homes for 2017-18, Durham was ranked by among the nation's top 10 transfer prospects.

Now he's Irish.

The 6-foot-11, 220-pound Durham visited Notre Dame in early May. He also toured Villanova and Virginia Tech. Durham announced his college choice just before 9:30 a.m. via Twitter when he wrote, "Blessed to have the opportunity to do is this again. I'm going to Notre Dame!"

Under NCAA transfer regulations, Durham will sit out the 2017-18 season. He has three years of eligibility remaining starting in 2018-19. The only graduate or traditional transfer to visit campus this spring, he will be in summer school at Notre Dame, which starts June 19.

Tampa (Fla.) Prep coach Joe Fenlon told the Tribune that sitting out next season would be a boost to Durham’s development. His former standout would get a chance to do something he couldn’t do last season – figure out where he fits within an offensive system as he grows his game and tailors his strengths to what a program needs.

Durham will get needed practice reps. He’ll be tutored by former Irish power forward and first-round NBA draft pick Ryan Humphrey, in his second season as an assistant and, like Durham, a transfer. He’ll get in the lab of strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski and better sculpt his body to stand strong alongside some of the talented front lines of the ACC.

Durham relishes that chance. He calls the process of getting in the gym, getting up shots and getting into the weight room grind “dawg work.”

“I have to stay in the weight room and on the basketball court,” Durham told the Tribune last month. “That’s what ‘dawg work’ is for me – constantly working out and getting those reps in things I know I’m going to need to do in the game.”

When the spring evaluation period opened in mid-April and college coaches were allowed off campus to see prep or transfer prospects, Durham was visited in Storrs, Conn., on the first day of the contact period by Brey and assistants Rod Balanis and Humphrey.

The show of staff force sent a simple message to Durham – you’re a priority. The priority.

“It felt really good,” Durham told the Tribune last month. “It’s a confidence boost.”

A confidence that has been missing from Durham’s game since late in his junior year of high school. Touted as a potential Top 50 prospect at Tampa (Fla.) Prep, Durham fell off the recruiting radar late his junior year. Averaging 22.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game, Durham tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while chasing a loose ball during a prep playoff game. Prior to his senior year, Durham tore the ACL in his left knee while running on a treadmill while rehabbing the right knee.

Last season as a freshman with the Huskies, Durham averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game. He shot 48.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the foul line with nine blocks and 27 fouls. He played in 28 games with no starts.

Durham is the second piece to an Irish recruiting puzzle that has the makings of something special. Last month, Notre Dame received a commitment from point guard Prentiss Hubb, a Top 60 prospect from Washington. Hubb is one of several Top 100 players the Irish are deeply involved with. New Jersey guard Luther Muhammad, ranked as high as No. 55, has already make an unofficial visit to campus. He has Notre Dame high on his wish list. So does another Top 100 prospect, Western Pennsylvania guard Robby Carmody. He has an official visit scheduled for later this month.

Brey has as many as five additional scholarships to offer the soon-to-be high school senior class. He could go several directions – get another guard, a swingman and a power forward. Two guards and another big? A guard, and two small forwards.

Options abound, though Brey will likely not use all five scholarships. A seven-man recruiting class is way too big for his coaching beliefs.

Still, the bar started pretty high with Hubb. It’s even higher now with Durham. It can go another wrung or two or three before the early-signing period arrives in November.

The Irish have some serious recruiting momentum.

Durham is the first transfer to choose Notre Dame since former Michigan State center Garrick Sherman in 2011.

From former swingman Dan Miller, who helped drive Notre Dame to its first NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 16 seasons in 2003 to Ben Hansbrough, the 2011 Big East player of the year, transfers have a history of getting better and being better at Notre Dame.

Now that the big-man wait/watch is over, Durham has the chance to be next.

(574) 235-6153