Notes: Notre Dame PF Juwan Durham learns drill during sit-out basketball season

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Sitting out this season as a transfer, Notre Dame sophomore power forward Juwan Durham has often been encouraged by the coaching staff to break the law.

Of basketball.

In practice.

A member of the blue (reserve) team, Durham has specific daily instructions from coach Mike Brey — swat aside anything near the rim. Even if it means he goaltends. Giving up two points in scrimmage situations is worth it. Durham offers the Irish a different type of defensive dimension.

“I’m always on him to block shots,” Brey said of Durham. “Like, I don’t care if you goaltend. That’s something he can give us.”

Brey also has been on Durham to become more of an interior threat. In high school and last season at Connecticut, Durham preferred to play more of a face-up perimeter game. Though he still wanders out to shoot the occasional jumper, Durham knows that he’ll earn minutes next year, and for the next three, doing damage in the low post.

“I 110-percent agree,” Durham said before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve worked on my inside game. I’m going to do the things I need to do and take the steps I need to take to get better.”

Like embracing work in the weight room, a place Durham admits he once hated. His lone season at UConn — where he played at 6-foot-11, 207 pounds while averaging 1.6 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.6 minutes —convinced him otherwise. He had to get stronger if he wanted to play longer minutes. Play a larger role.

Durham has since added 10 pounds and believes he can add close to 10 more before next summer’s foreign tour of the Bahamas, when he will be eligible and could challenge for a starting spot. He embraces everything about the weight room and the demands of strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski.

“Now it’s like second nature to me and I love it,” he said. “I love T-Ro. That’s my guy.”

In late fall, Durham underwent surgery on his left wrist. There were no broken bones or torn ligaments involved, just some clean-up work from damage done over time. He returned to practice early last week. His teammates noticed.

“He’s long and he alters shots,” said power forward Martinas Geben. “It definitely makes for a difficult matchup, slightly more difficult than we’ve had the last couple of years. He has a bright future here.”

Tough turnaround

The Virginia Tech game marked the first of three Saturday-Monday league swings for Notre Dame. Only No. 4 Duke has as many among the 15 ACC schools.

Duke is Monday’s opponent at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils (18-3; 6-3 ACC) trailed by as many as 13 points in a 65-63 home loss to No. 2 Virginia on Saturday. The game tipped at 2 p.m. Notre Dame and Virginia Tech started six hours later.

“Saturday-Mondays are hard enough, especially when you’re playing late,” Brey said. “It’s a quick turnaround.”

Why the inconsistencies in tip times? Thank television. If CBS wants Duke-Virginia during the day, it gets Duke-Virginia during the day. If ESPN prefers Notre Dame and Virginia Tech in the later evening window, that game gets the later evening window.

“Everybody’s trapped on TV stuff,” Brey said. “It is what it is.”

This weekend marked the first time in the five-year association with the ACC that Notre Dame played a Saturday night home game before a Monday night road game.

“It’s less a tough turnaround if you win the first one,” Brey said. “If you win the first one, your adrenaline helps you feel better for Monday night.”

Had Saturday’s game been an afternoon start, Notre Dame likely would have traveled to North Carolina that night. With the late tip, the Irish have an early-afternoon charter flight Sunday with a workout scheduled that night at Cameron.

“It will be a glorified shoot-around,” said Brey.

Notre Dame last played a Saturday night home game, then traveled Sunday to play a Monday road game during the 2010-11 season. Then a member of the Big East, Notre Dame beat St. John’s at home, 76-61, in a game that started at 8 p.m. Less than 48 hours later, it lost 79-57 at Marquette.

M*A*S*H unit

Notre Dame played again Saturday without power forward Bonzie Colson, who missed his seventh game with a broken left foot, without point guard Matt Farrell, out with a bone bruise to his left ankle and without freshman swingman D.J. Harvey, out with a bone bruise to his left knee.

Harvey missed his second straight game after suffering the injury in the first half of the Jan. 16 double-overtime loss to Louisville. Originally expected to miss a month, Harvey might be back earlier. Like next week at North Carolina State earlier.

“We’re hopeful,” Brey said. “He’s on the (stationary) bike getting the range of motion.”

Colson will have an X-ray early next month to see how his foot has healed. He could realistically return to practice in late February with a return for the season finale on March 3 at Virginia.

“That’s best case,” Brey said.

Farrell also is expected to miss Monday’s game at Duke, and then be re-evaluated Wednesday.

Forward thinking

Brey has been honest with his team about their chances of winning enough to get back to the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season. With a healthy Colson and a healthy Farrell, Notre Dame was expected to get to the Sweet 16. A break or two, and the Irish even might flirt with their first Final Four since 1978.

All that’s changed. If the Irish can go 9-9 or even 8-10 in ACC play and have an outside chance at sliding into the NCAA field of 68, Brey would take it.

“That’s as good as it gets,” he said. “I’m very realistic. If we can’t (get to 9-9 or 8-10) then we’re not part of March Madness. It’s real, real simple.

“Our guys know the reality of it.”

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Notre Dame sophomore power forward Juwan Durham will give the Irish a shot-blocking presence next season they haven't had in years. (SBT File Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)