Is former Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem NBA ready?

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Pencil-thin in build when he arrived at Notre Dame, former Irish swingman V.J. Beachem was ill-prepared to handle the rigors of college basketball so early in his career.

But Beachem, who was listed at 187 pounds on a sinewy 6-foot-8 frame back in the summer of 2013, had no choice. Following the loss of veteran guard Jerian Grant for the 2014 spring semester due to academics and the transfer of swingman Cameron Biedscheid, the freshman Beachem had to play and a play a lot that first transition year through the Atlantic Coast Conference as the Irish staggered to a 15-17 finish.

As a sophomore, Beachem still was finding his basketball sea legs. Notre Dame ran off to a 32-6 season in 2014-15, but Beachem often was left on the outside looking in. He wasn’t buried deep on the bench, but also wasn’t a regular part of the rotation, especially during that magical run through March.

His game needed more work. It got just that.

The next two years - his last two – were a different story for Beachem. He figured out where he fit. He shot it with confidence. Played with a little swagger. Wasn't afraid. Understood that he was a main guy, and would be one through any and all of the ups and downs and makes misses that surface during the six-month grind of a season. Of a career.

For Beachem, that progress was all part of the process that saw him close his collegiate career with 1,215 points over 132 games.

“It speaks to how you develop in our program,” Beachem said in February. “If you stick with it and stay steady, you can be successful.”

Beachem set career highs as a senior for points (14.5), rebounds (4.1), blocks (1.1) and minutes (34.2). He shot 42.2 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from 3 and 83.6 percent from the foul line. He and classmate Steve Vasturia helped the Irish win a school-record 82 games over their final three seasons. As Beachem and his game grew, a goal came into view across his basketball horizon. If he kept working, kept developing, kept improving, it just might be within reach.

It’s there. Right there.

On Thursday, Beachem waits to be selected in the annual two-round NBA draft. Whether that happens remains a roll of the NBA dice. He’s heard since way back in the spring that he’s slotted late in the second round, somewhere between picks 45 and 60. NBAdraft.net has Beachem going to New York at No. 58. CBSsports.net has him ticketed for Boston at No. 53. Other mock sites have him undrafted.

Following the draft combine and graduation in mid-May, Beachem spent the last few weeks crisscrossing the country working out for several teams. In Boston. In Los Angeles. In Milwaukee. In New York. In Oakland. For Beachem, it was have game, will travel. Anywhere. Everywhere.

One day after graduating Notre Dame, Beachem was in California auditioning for the Lakers.

At 6-foot-8 and listed at 200 pounds, Beachem is considered a potential 3-and-D small forward/shooting guard who can bolster an NBA bench. With his 6-foot-10 ¼ wing span, 37-inch vertical leap and shooting ability, he can help stretch the floor and defend.

“You have to earn your stripes by playing hard and doing the little stuff to earn your spot,” said Irish assistant coach Ryan Ayers, who knows what it’s like to battle for an NBA roster spot in the summer. “You’ve got to keep up to be really good.”

Beachem has worked the last few months on getting more arc on his perimeter shot, which had a tendency during stretches last season to fall too flat. Five hundred jumpers a day from the deeper NBA 3-point arc, helped Beachem with that.

“Shooting can translate from Day One,” Beachem said.

Back in Chicago at the combine, Beachem was peppered with questions from reporters unfamiliar with either his game or his story or both. What would it be like, one wondered, to be in the green room for the NBA draft (he won’t be). Another asked if he would take with him to New York a large entourage with him (definitely not his style) and maybe even wear a bow tie (seriously?). One even wondered whether he’d rather celebrate his possible selection at Disneyland or Disney World (sigh).

But the question as to who Beachem patterns his game after may have come easiest for the soft-spoken Indiana native.

“Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson,” he said of the two perennial Western Conference all-stars. “For the way the move without the ball and their shooting ability.”

Beachem planned to spend Thursday night around a small group of family and friends at home in Fort Wayne after calling California home for much of his training time. There will be happiness and hugs if he hears his name called. If pick No. 60 arrives around midnight and he hasn’t been taken, it will just be time to go back to work and go the free-agent route to earn a summer-league roster spot.

Thursday isn’t just a potentially big night for Beachem, but also for the Irish basketball program. Should Beachem be selected, it would mark the third-straight summer that the NBA has tapped into coach Mike Brey’s program for at least one player.

In 2015, guard Jerian Grant (first round) and small forward Pat Connaughton (second round) heard their names called. Last summer, former Marian High School standout Demetrius Jackson was a second-round pick after leaving school a year early. Seniors-to-be power forward Bonzie Colson and guard Matt Farrell will be on many a draft radar this time next year.

But for now, is Beachem next?

Should he be, it would mark the first time since 1986-88 that at least one Irish has been selected for three-straight NBA drafts.

Beachem longs to be part of that legacy.

“It would be great for us,” he said. “It would only add to that 2015 team. That was where everything shifted for us as a program and embody that 2015 team as a whole.

“It was a great run.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Will former Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem keep the recent Irish run of NBA draft picks going Thursday? (AP File Photo/Julie Jacobson)

What: 2017 NBA draft

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

When: Thursday at 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN.

Format: Two rounds of 30 selections in each round.

Note: After having three players (Troy Murphy, Ryan Humphrey, Luke Harangody) selected over a 10-year period (2001-10), Notre Dame has had three (Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson) taken in the last two NBA drafts (2015, 2016).