Noie: Who are 20 best to play for Mike Brey over his 20 years with Notre Dame hoops?
It’s a topic best debated over stacks of chicken wings — hot barbecue, please — with plenty of cold beverages (water or ginger ale only for this guy) in a packed restaurant filled with good conversation, better basketball friends and sports of all sorts on the televisions.
Remember those days?
Mike Brey recently completed his 20th season as head coach of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program. So who are the top 20 Irish to play for Brey over that time? Here’s one list in first-, second-, third- and fourth-team form. And five honorable mention guys just for the heck of it.
Remember, this a list only of former Irish who have played for Brey. It’s not an all-time roster, which is why there’s no Austin Carr or Adrian Dantley or David Rivers. That’s another list for another day and another round of wings.
Here’s the same disclaimer offered for last week’s rundown of best and worst and wish list of college basketball arenas — it’s totally subjective. The opinion of one person who’s spent 22 years on the Notre Dame men’s basketball beat, meaning all of Brey’s time as head coach. The home games. The road games. The tournament games. The memorable moments. The forgettable ones.
Understand that there are no right or wrong answers. Your personal 20 may include many of the same names, but in different order. That’s cool. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what we miss today and tomorrow and who knows for how long about hoops. About sports.
The first time a list like this was drafted in December, one former Irish took issue that one player wasn’t ranked as high as he thought he should be ranked. That’s OK. Just slot that player where you believe he should go, but eliminate another on that team to make room for him.
The former player couldn’t do it. See? It’s hard. But it’s fun. And with that, off we go.
G — Jerian Grant (2011-15)
Considered by Brey the ultimate creator/closer who nearly pushed the 2014-15 team to the Final Four. Did any guard in the country have a better season than Grant (16.5 ppg., 3.0 rpg., 6.6 apg.)? A first team All-American and eventual first round NBA draft pick, Grant was the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference that season. But the ACC being the ACC, gave that award to Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. Grant was better. Special. Unique.
G — Ben Hansbrough (2009-11)
Grant’s one massive season mirrored Hansbrough’s in 2010-11, when he did earn Big East player of the year. He was the engine and energy that drove Notre Dame to 27-7. The guy they called B-Hans had it all — shot-making, scoring, leader, swagger. He was often at his best on the road when the fans and the odds were stacked against him (see Pittsburgh, 2011).
G/F — Pat Connaughton (2011-15)
The ultimate plug-and-play team guy who made 120 consecutive starts, Connaughton seldom worried about getting his shots or his stats or anything except winning. He often played power forward during his time at Notre Dame, and grabbed over 500 rebounds his final two seasons. He also ended his collegiate career with the fifth-most made 3-pointers (268) in school history. There may be no better captain/leader/voices before or after No. 24. The dudes on this first team would need the ball in their hands a lot to succeed. Connaughton wouldn’t.
F — Luke Harangody (2006-10)
Nobody saw him coming from nearby Andrean High School. Had it not been for a knee injury suffered his senior season, Harangody would’ve likely left Notre Dame the all-time scorer and rebounder in school history. He ranks second in each at 2,476 and 1,222. The ultimate walking bucket, he just found ways to score. And rebound. And dominate.
F — Troy Murphy (1998-2001)
As goofy as he was good, and he was ridiculously goofy. Murphy had that look of a future NBA guy from the minute he stepped on campus. He was a beast. He earned Big East rookie of the year honors, then player of the year honors the next two seasons. He had to bypass his senior season for the pros. There was nothing left for him to prove. Murph’s the program’s last NBA lottery pick (No. 14 in 2001).
G — Tory Jackson (2006-10)
Never voted a team most valuable player in his four seasons, few have been as important as Jackson. He ranks among the program’s best in assists (second), steals (second) games played (fourth) and minutes (third). Maybe most important, he gave this program a razor’s edge of toughness when it most needed it. The Irish had gone soft, then T-Jax arrived. Whatever IT is, Jackson had it. A lot of it.
G — Chris Thomas (2001-05)
Still the only player in program history to record a triple double (24 points, 11 assists and 11 steals) Thomas did it in…his…first…game. He was a one-man highlight his first two years before his knee started to crumble. Thomas was a shell of himself his last two years, but remains one of only four Irish to score at least 2,000 career points. He’s also first in school history in assists (833) and steals (244). A lot of what Thomas did has been forgotten over the years. It can’t be.
G — Matt Carroll (1999-2003)
Pigeon-holed simply as a spot-up corner shooter his freshman year under Matt Doherty, Carroll blossomed as a basketball player his last three years under Brey. He started all but one game his final three seasons and finished with 1,850 career points (eighth all-time). As steady as anyone’s ever been in South Bend.
F — Bonzie Colson (2014-18)
Like Harangody, nobody saw Colson coming. He wasn’t supposed to be that good. All he did when he got a chance was produce. He scored 1,632 points, grabbed 900 rebounds and finished with 34 career double doubles. Had a broken foot not sidelined him most of his senior season in 2017-18, Colson would’ve made a serious run at ACC player of the year and the NBA draft. Maybe the ultimate what-might-have-been season.
F — John Mooney (2016-2020)
A double-double machine his last two seasons. He finished with 45 in his career, including 25 this past season. He put up double-double/rebounding numbers that the ACC hasn’t seen since the days of Tim Duncan. Nobody would’ve dreamed to put those two names together in any hoops sentence. The quintessential Brey type of player who just worked himself into a high-level ACC caliber contributor. Quietly confident and driven to be good. He worked his way into the Top 20 the last two years.
G — Matt Farrell (2014-18)
The kid oozed New Jersey toughness, even though he barely played his first two seasons. Farrell was leaning toward leaving after his sophomore season, then got the stunning starting nod in the 2016 NCAA tournament that launched his career toward a different trajectory. He became a 1,000-point career scorer (1,097). He had 365 assists his final two seasons. He missed five games his senior year but still was a third team All-ACC guy. Why? He played with that edge that every coach covets.
G — Demetrius Jackson (2013-16)
No Irish guard — maybe no Irish overall — has been as physically gifted as Jackson, the last McDonald’s All-American to sign with Notre Dame. He scored 1,204 points, had 335 assists and played 3,243 minutes his first three seasons. We were just starting to see the depths of his talent late in the 2015-16 season when he led the Irish back to the Elite Eight. He then left early for the NBA, like he was going right as he got going.
G/F — Steve Vasturia (2013-17)
As solid and as steady as anyone who’s played for Brey. Maybe ever played for Notre Dame. He was the quiet guy who just went out and did his job. Made big shots. Made big plays. Just played. Scored. Defended. As long as he was on the floor, and he was on the floor a lot his final three seasons (34.4 minutes average), all would be well, and usually was for the Irish. Vasturia in the corner for big 3? Book it.
F — Jack Cooley (2009-13)
Cooley’s career sometimes gets overlooked because he didn’t spend a lot of time above the rim. He averaged 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds his first two years, then averaged 12.5 and 7.5 last two. He was Big East most improved his junior year, Big East first team his senior year. He just kept competing.
F — Ryan Humphrey (2000-02)
Maybe without a big-man peer in South Bend the last 20 years. Hump was ridiculously athletic. And resilient. One time in 2001, he was ruled out for a few weeks with a stress reaction in his lower leg. Forty-eight hours later at Miami (Ohio), he went for 18 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and six assists in a career-best 40 minutes in a one-point Irish win. Humphrey became a first team all-Big East pick and eventual first-round NBA draft pick through hard work and hustle.
G — Kyle McAlarney (2005-09)
Another guy with mountains of East Coast moxie and the game to back it up, few shot it the way McAlarney shot it. With range. With accuracy. With cold-bloodedness at critical times. He shares the school record for 3-pointers made in a game (10). He’s fourth for career 3s (298) and second for percentage (.434). His return in 2007-08 from a university-imposed suspension remains one of the program’s top feel-good, redemption stories. He proved a lot of people wrong.
G — Chris Quinn (2002-06)
Don’t let the paper-boy looks fool you. Quinn would take it to you, like when he went for a career-high 37 points in a double-overtime loss at Pittsburgh in the 2005-06 league opener. He made shots from just inside the PITT logo at halfcourt. He once played 159 game minutes without a turnover. He was as steady and as solid a guard as there’s been around here the last 20 years. How good was Quinn? He carved out five seasons in the NBA as undrafted free agent. That’s hard to do. Quinn, naturally, made it look easy.
F — David Graves (1998-2002)
One of the forgotten really good guys having played alongside Carroll and Humphrey and Murphy. Graves ranks 10th all-time for points (1,746), sixth for 3-pointers made (259), seventh for 3-point field goal percentage (.411) and third in steals (202). Need someone to take and make a big shot? Don’t forget about No. 34.
F — Rob Kurz (2004-08)
The ultimate team guy, who often was the first pick when it was time to choose sides for summer pickup runs. He just made everyone around him better. Kurz would guard his guy, then guard your guy. He screened. He rolled. He moved the ball. He scored 1,013 career points and grabbed 650 rebounds, but what Kurz offered went far beyond the stat sheet.
F — Zach Auguste (2012-16)
Forget how good Auguste was on those back-to-back Elite Eight teams? Go back and watch the 2015 Midwest Regional final against Kentucky when Auguste stared down that future NBA frontline of Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley Stein and Trey Lyles. Auguste was the best Irish player — not just the best Irish big man — on the floor that night in Cleveland with 20 points and nine rebounds. His talent often went overlooked because of the guys he played with. They made him better, but he also made them better.
Honorable mention: Tim Abromaitis, Eric Atkins, Collin Falls, Dan Miller, Ty Nash.