A whole new D.J. Harvey finds fit, flow as starter for Notre Dame men's basketball team

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Imagine stumbling into a movie theater, scrambling to find a seat and settling in before realizing the movie everyone’s been talking about started about 20 minutes earlier.

Who are the main characters? What’s the plot? What twists already were tossed out? Nobody's available to fill in the blanks so the rest of the time is spent figuring out how the puzzle pieces fit.

It would have been better to see it all from the start.

Such was the feeling 14 games into the college basketball career of Notre Dame freshman swingman D.J. Harvey. His role was to provide some scoring and rebounding and athleticism off the bench, but the more he tried to convince himself that everything about it felt right, the more he felt something about his game was wrong.

It was something that only starting might solve.

Had the Irish rotation remained status quo, that might not have happened until August during the program’s scheduled foreign tour of the Bahamas. Harvey was a rotation regular, but there was nothing regular about the role. Not his minutes. His shots. His opportunities. His production. He averaged 5.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 15.6 minutes. He failed to score double figures in nine of his last 10 games, including the last six.

It was a trying transition. It was one that Harvey at times handled – 16 points in 22 minutes off the bench against Chicago State – and others didn’t – no points, no shot attempts, no rebounds, no factor in five minutes in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Georgia Tech.

That Tech game was the final one for Harvey as a reserve. Notre Dame lost All-American power forward Bonzie Colson this week to a broken foot. That forced Irish coach Mike Brey to make his first tough decision with his starting lineup. Would he go with Harvey or sophomore power forward John Mooney for Wednesday’s game against North Carolina State? Both can make a perimeter shot and defend, but with the 6-foot-6 1/2 Harvey in the mix, the floor seemed better spaced for the way the Irish have to work – move and cut – without their workhorse Colson.

Harvey made the first start of his career. He got into an early flow. He hit his first 3-point attempt from his sweet spot – the left wing – barely two minutes in. When it fell, Harvey turned and raised both arms in the air. You could almost feel him release the frustration that had festered for the last month.

It’s about time, his expression seemed to shout.

Harvey was nowhere near done. He dunked. He defended. He played with confidence on both ends. He worried less about being yanked for a missed shot or a defensive miscue. For the first time, Harvey looked the part of a consensus top 50 recruit. He felt more himself and finished with career highs for points (17) and minutes (30). It was the most points for an Irish freshman in his first career start since Chris Thomas had 24 in 2001.

“I feel free to play, but not get outside of myself,” Harvey said following an 88-58 victory that pushed the Irish to 12-3, 2-0 in the ACC heading into Saturday’s game at Syracuse. “It feels great. It feels amazing.

“It feels like I’m back in high school.”

Back at DeMatha (Md.) Catholic, Harvey was part of some select company. Playing for one of the nation’s most respected prep programs, Harvey became only the second Stag in history to start his first varsity game as a freshman. The other also has deep Notre Dame ties, and a home in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The other was Adrian Dantley.

Harvey was a four-year starter at DeMatha. At Notre Dame, he accepted his bench role while working behind veteran guys, but it really never did suit his style. His game needs to find its flow with minutes. The longer he’s on the floor, the more comfortable Harvey gets in finding his spots for his shots. That was difficult to do getting only a handful of minutes here and there.

Given the chance to play more minutes earlier this week, Harvey delivered.

“He really responded well,” said Brey, himself a DeMatha product. “I sure hope this jump-starts him, because he’s a gifted guy.”

One that showed early signs of his toolbox of talents – Brey still insists that Notre Dame doesn’t win the Maui Jim Maui Invitational without Harvey – but one who nearly suffocated under December’s academic demands. The more he dwelled on having to deliver in the classroom, the more his game disintegrated. He tried to work through it, but only fell deeper into a hole of doubt.

“We were trying to find him,” Brey said, “and get him back.”

Harvey’s back. He’ll remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. Maybe for the rest of the season. He answered one challenge Wednesday. Another – a really big one – awaits Saturday.

Harvey has never played in the Carrier Dome. He’s never played against the long and lanky 2-3 zone. His ability to make shots from all three levels will be critical for the Irish to snap a five-game losing streak in Central New York. Park him around the free throw line in the center of the zone and Harvey’s shot-making ability can loosen up a lot of good looks.

The dome and the zone often spook even the most confident of shooters. Harvey can’t get spooked. He’s got to shoot it. Quickly. Confidently. He’s going to get minutes. He’s going to get opportunities. It’s time to again deliver.

Right from the start.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (12-3; 2-0 ACC) vs. Syracuse (12-3; 1-1).

WHERE: Carrier Dome (35,446), Syracuse, N.Y.

WHEN: Saturday at 3:15 p.m.

TV: ESPN2.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI

NOTING: Frank Howard scored 23 points to lead four Orange in double figures in Wednesday’s 73-67 loss at Wake Forest. The Orange allowed 44 points in the second half. … Two starters return off last year’s team that finished 19-15, 10-8 and seventh place in the ACC. The Orange did not make the NCAA tournament. … Syracuse leads the all-time series 28-20, including 14-9 in the Carrier Dome and 3-1 as ACC colleagues. … Notre Dame last won in Central New York on Jan. 10, 2007, 103-91. At the time, it was the most points scored by an opponent in Carrier Dome history. … Syracuse was picked this preseason to finish 10th in the ACC. … Notre Dame will be without senior power forward Bonzie Colson (broken foot) and senior guard Matt Farrell (sprained ankle). … Notre Dame remains on the road Wednesday with a rematch against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

QUOTING: “We can’t get complacent. We’ve got to play with a chip on our shoulder. A lot of people are counting us out. We’ve got to come and play hard every night.”

-Notre Dame freshman swingman D.J. Harvey