Connecticut PF transfer Juwan Durham chooses Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

As the annual college basketball transfer tally kept growing through late winter and spring and early summer – 100, 200, 300 over 400 players sought new homes – the Notre Dame men’s basketball program had its sights set on one specific name.

On Saturday morning, the Irish got their guy when former Connecticut power forward Juwan Durham committed. The 6-foot-11, 220-pound Durham, who visited Notre Dame earlier in the spring, also made visits to Villanova and Virginia Tech.

Durham announced for Notre Dame 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 and will have three years of eligibility remaining. The only graduate or traditional transfer to visit campus this spring, he is expected to be enrolled in summer school at Notre Dame, which starts June 19.

Durham is the first college transfer to choose Notre Dame since former Michigan State center Garrick Sherman in 2011. Back 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 on the first day of the contact period by Irish coach Mike Brey and assistants Rod Balanis and Ryan Humphrey.

Touted as a possible Top 50 prospect during his later years in high school at Tampa (Fla.) Prep, Durham fell off the recruiting radar during 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 Tampa Prep playoff game. Early in his senior season, Durham then tore the ACL in his left knee while running on a treadmill to rehab the right knee.

Durham told the Tribune earlier this spring that his knees are not an issue.

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 class 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 have been involved in during the spring evaluation period. New Jersey guard Luther Muhammad, ranked as high as No. 55, has already make an unofficial visit to campus. Another Top 100 prospect, guard Robby Carmody, has an official visit scheduled for later this month.

Durham gives the Irish some much-needed size and skill and potential in and around the low post, where he’ll be tutored by Humphrey, a former fellow transfer who arrived at Notre Dame after two years at Oklahoma. An eventual first-round NBA draft pick, Humphrey is in his second season as an Irish assistant.

One of the few true post players on Notre Dame’s short recruiting wish list, be it a transfer or prep player, Durham is an important addition. A needed addition. Current Irish power forwards Martinas Geben and Austin Torres will exhaust their college eligibilities after next season. Sophomore-to-be John Mooney is more of a stretch-4 man in the mold of former Irish power forward Rob Kurz. Fellow power forward Elijah Burns has played a total of 44 minutes in 11 games over his first two seasons, which also included a sit-out season to preserve a year of eligibility.

With three years of eligibility still remaining, Burns is on schedule to possibly graduate next spring. If unhappy with his place in the program – there’s zero indication that that might be the case – Burns would have the option to seek a new home and be immediately eligible in 2018-19 as a graduate transfer.

Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon told the Tribune last month that sitting out next season would be a boost to Durham’s development. He’d have the chance to do something he couldn’t do at Connecticut last season – figure out where he fits within an offensive system and tailor his strengths to what the program needs.

Durham gets the chance to find where and how he fits in Brey’s free-flowing offense. He’ll also be able to get in the lab of strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski and better sculpt his body to withstand the rigors of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Durham knows he needs to gain weight, and knows he needs more time to develop.

Durham can’t wait for that chance, which will start later this month.

He calls the process of getting in the gym, getting up shots and getting into 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.”

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 tendency to get better and be better at Notre Dame than at their previous places.

Is Durham next?