Mooney earns MVP honors from Notre Dame hoops season
For the second straight spring, there was no year-end awards program to put a period on the paragraph that was the Notre Dame men’s basketball season.
At least not in the traditional tour of Purcell Pavilion and gather in Heritage Hall to listen to the seniors’ speeches sense.
After never scheduling “An Evening With Notre Dame Basketball” following the 2018-19 season, the event was slated to return this month. In this day of social distancing, it was held via social media Thursday with Mike Brey opening the evening on Twitter with a video statement from his patio.
“Raise your hand if you need a haircut,” said Brey. “I know I’m looking bad.”
Each of the main eight Irish scholarship players were honored in a program that took about 50 minutes.
In prior years, the event would’ve included food and drink at Club Naimoli and tours of the Purcell Pavilion basketball facilities before an hour-long awards ceremony and a wrap-up highlight video.
On Thursday, fans could turn to Twitter where, with no surprise, former Irish power forward John Mooney earned the season’s top individual honor.
A first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, the senior was named the team’s most valuable player. The Orlando, Fla., native led the Irish in scoring (16.2) and rebounding (12.7). The 6-foot-9, 245-pounder produced 25 double doubles for points and rebounds this season and 45 for his career. He set the ACC single-season record with double doubles in 16 of the league’s 20 games.
“A machine-like rebounder who worked his tail off to become one of the best players in college basketball,” Brey tweeted. “The numbers he posted will last for a long time in (the ACC).”
“Learned from the best in the business,” Mooney tweeted.
Notre Dame did not recognize an MVP last year, when the evening awards night was scrapped instead for a team dinner of Nelson’s Chicken on the top floor of Rolfs Hall. Brey said he hopes to hold next year’s evening at Rolfs.
“We want you to see this place,” he said.
Guards T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger shared the captains’ award.
“These two were amazing captains and even better men leading the way for our program this season,” tweeted assistant coach Ryan Ayers.
Mooney and Gibbs both were invited to participate in this month’s Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, an early NBA draft showcase for graduating college seniors since canceled by the pandemic. The two, along with Pflueger, still plan to pursue professional basketball careers at various levels.
“What great ambassadors for the program,” Brey said.
Pflueger ended his five-year Irish career the school’s all-time leader in games played (141).
“Notre Dame, it’s been a blessed time,” Pflueger said via video. “It’s been a long time and it’s been a great time.”
Also recognized Thursday were point guard Prentiss Hubb (outstanding playmaker), shooting guard Dane Goodwin (most improved), forward Nate Laszewski (Mr. Clutch), power forward Juwan Durham (defensive MVP) and guard Nik Djogo (Team Irish).
Laszewski earned his honor with two big 3-pointers — one to tie the game at the end of regulation and force overtime in the November win over Toledo and the other to win the North Carolina game at the end of regulation in February.
“When the game is on the line, he embraces the pressure and takes his game to another level,” Irish assistant coach Ryan Humphrey tweeted about Laszewski.
Notre Dame won five of its last seven and eight of 12 to finish 20-12 overall, 10-10 and seventh place in the ACC. The Irish opened 2-6 in league play before going 8-4. They also won an ACC tournament game for the sixth straight season in seven years in the league.
“We love playing in the ACC tournament,” Brey said.
Notre Dame’s second-round league tournament victory over Boston College last month — one day before the sports world shut down — was victory No. 1,900 in program history. Notre Dame is one of only eight schools with at least that many wins.
“I loved our group,” Brey said.
Having finished his 20th season at Notre Dame, Brey is 437-234. He’s the school leader in wins and losses and, next year, seasons coached.
The Irish led the nation in assist/turnover ratio (1.68), fewest fouls (397) and fouls per game (12.4). They were second in turnovers per game (9.8) and tied for ninth in assists (16.5 per game).
Notre Dame returns six players off this season’s team in 2020-21 led by junior-to-be Hubb, who was third on the squad in scoring (12.1 ppg.) and first in assists (5.0).
“There’s no doubt that he will be one of the top returning guards in the country next season,” tweeted associate head coach Rod Balanis.
The Irish add former Stanford guard Cormac Ryan (three seasons of eligibility) and three freshmen — wing Tony Sanders and power forwards Elijah Taylor and Matt Zona. Hubb and Ryan likely will be joined in the starting lineup by juniors-to-be Goodwin and Laszewski and fifth-year senior Juwan Durham.