Noie: Basketball recruiting class one to remember for Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Wednesday dawned crisp and cold and clear, a day like none other in the 6,326 for Mike Brey as head coach of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program.

Before noon, four high school seniors, all four-star college prospects and all ranked among the nation’s 100 best, had delivered their respective letters of intent to the Irish basketball offices.

Brey secured signatures from a point guard (Prentiss Hubb of Upper Marlboro, Md.) two wings (Robby Carmody of Mars, Pa., and Dane Goodwin of Upper Arlington, Ohio) and power forward Nate Laszewski (Jupiter, Fla.). The collection of quality gave Brey arguably his highest-ranked recruiting class during his 18-year tenure.

Notre Dame garnered what many tab as a Top 12 class. One recruiting service had the Irish ranked as high as No. 7. All the time and effort and leg work from Brey and associate head coach Rod Balanis and assistant coaches Ryan Ayers and Ryan Humphrey paid off. All the bleary-eyed hours spent watching AAU games on wooden bleachers from North Augusta, S.C. to Las Vegas gave Notre Dame’s its finest class in decades.

Ayers respectfully disagrees. He believes his recruiting class in 2005, one that included Zach Hillelsand, Kyle McAlarney and Luke Zeller, was better. That highest rank for the class was 29.

So how would the head coach celebrate? With an extra-big breakfast from his special spot in Granger? With an extra-large coffee order from the Starbucks close to campus? None of the above.

Brey plain forgot Wednesday was the first day prospects could sign their national letters of intent, and also the first day that he could publicly acknowledge and discuss the next wave that will help restock the Notre Dame roster starting in June with summer school.

With so much more on his mind – namely, the season opener at DePaul now three days away – Brey didn’t remember that this was a big day for an Irish program that’s had plenty of them over the last three years. In that span, Notre Dame has won at Duke and North Carolina for the first time in school history. It captured its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and has played for the title in two of the last three years. It’s gone to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight twice. It’s ranked No. 14 to start this season. It’s touted as a possible Final Four sleeper pick.

Now it has a well-respected recruiting class. Just another step for an Irish program that has taken plenty of big ones. And like they often say in the Irish locker room, they aren’t done yet.

“It’s another step of how we’re looked at,” Brey said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re thought of a little differently now. This class is an example of it.”

Especially how Brey put the final piece in the puzzle in late September with the addition of Laszewski. Notre Dame had been on the Laszewski family radar for years. They made a pair of unofficial trips to campus in recent years, both to check on the school and get a closer look at Brey’s player-friendly offense. Feelings were mutual that this was something that could work. The Irish were close to offering the 6-foot-10, 205-pound Laszewski during the fall of his junior year at Northfield (Mass.) Mount Hermon Academy. But a nagging ankle injury suffered by Laszewski left Brey wanting to see more.

Same held true through the spring.

“He was still a little sore,” Brey said. “He still wasn’t doing it.”

Come the July evaluation period, Laszewski had healed. His game was hot. Brey watched him during an off-the-beaten-AAU-path tournament in Atlanta. Saw of all of two games, and had seen enough.

He offered.

By the time the final AAU stop arrived in Las Vegas every major school from Arizona to North Carolina to Wisconsin was chasing Laszewski. Notre Dame, one of the first ones there, still was there.

“We,” Brey said, “were already in the game.”

Notre Dame played a similar recruiting game for far too many previous years. Brey or Balanis or another Irish assistant would spend months, years, doing the required leg work, only to have one of the sport’s blue bloods come in when the recruiting race was rounding the home stretch and steal a commitment at the 11th hour.

It could have happened again with Laszewski. It didn’t. He ignored woos from other schools and stayed true to one of the schools that stayed true with him.

Arizona? Nah.

North Carolina? Pfft.

Notre Dame? Yessir.

“For us to beat them for a guy like Nate is a real feather in our cap,” Brey said.

 Coming together

For each prospect, a similarly interesting tale exists.

With a day off before facing Duke in the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Tournament in downtown Washington, Brey and former Irish assistant coach Anthony Solomon hopped in a car for a five-minute drive to nearby Gonzaga College High School. There, they scouted then-junior point guard Chris Lykes. The more they watched Lykes, who would eventually sign with Miami (Fla.) the more they noticed a teammate, then a sophomore.

“I couldn’t keep my eyes off Prentiss Hubb,” Brey said. “I remember telling Anthony, ‘Well, let’s make a run on Lykes, but I’ll tell you what, if we miss on him, let’s crank it up on this guy.’”

Hubb was the first to commit to the Class of 2018 in May. Come summer, he began experiencing pain in his right knee. The pain lingered, and likely was there when he visited Notre Dame and played pickup along with the other three commitments during the Georgia football weekend. Last week, Hubb underwent surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament. He’ll miss his senior season, but should be ready to go come August when the Irish embark on a three-game, seven-day foreign tour of the Bahamas.

A perfect time for Brey to find someone to step into the spot that eventually will be vacated by current senior captain Matt Farrell.

“He’s looking and saying, ‘There’s a lot of room there for a ball-handler as a freshman,’” Brey said of Hubb.

Carmody and Goodwin have more in common than summer official visits and commitments that came within days of the other. Both are sons of current coaches. Carmody is coached by his father in high school; a former standout guard at Dayton, Goodwin's is the winningest coach in the history of Capital University in Columbus.

That a pair of successful coaches regardless of level would want their sons to play for Brey speaks to the respect the Irish program has generated over the last few years.

“That’s an endorsement of your program, when you have two very good coaches, veteran guys, send you their sons,” Brey said. “I’m flattered and I’m honored with the Goodwin and the Carmody situations, the dads felt trusting enough to hand their sons over to me.”

Each did so knowing what happens when they arrive at and then, ultimately leave Notre Dame.

“Guys,” Brey said, “get better here.”

Wednesday marked the end of a long recruiting haul for the Irish head coach. From the time he returns after a week off to decompress following after the Final Four, he’s in full-on recruiting mode until the first day of practice in October. He’s always running through different recruiting scenarios in his mind, always wondering if he’s playing his recruiting cards right, always pondering whether he and his staff will have to dip into their Plan B.

As everything fell into place with this class, Plan B gathered dust somewhere in a basketball office desk drawer.

“We were grinding Plan A hard and we were getting good signs that Plan A was going to work,” Brey said. “A lot of times that doesn’t happen.

“I’m grateful and thankful and I’ll go light a candle. Another candle.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI