NCAA ruling gives green light for Notre Dame guard Trey Wertz

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — For two days of workouts this week, Notre Dame junior guard Trey Wertz flipped his practice jersey from blue to white for some rare run with the starting unit.

The move was made in case something might happen. On Wednesday, something happened.

The NCAA Division I ruled that sit-out transfers like Wertz, who spent his first two seasons at Santa Clara before arriving in South Bend late this summer, would be immediately eligible this college basketball season. The decision was made to offset possible roster issues that programs might encounter dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Wertz became eligible under a proposal from the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), drafted with heavy input/influence from Irish coach Mike Brey, a past president, and the Notre Dame compliance office.

The NCAA made the news official just after 5:30 Wednesday evening.

Having worked more with the main guys in practice this week, Wertz is expected to be in uniform and available for Wednesday’s home game and Atlantic Coast Conference opener against No. 21 Duke, which ended after Tribune deadline.

“Trey’s a really good guard,” said starting point guard Prentiss Hubb. “He brings a lot to the table. His veteran presence will be good. He gives us another option.”

Notre Dame already has plenty of guards, especially starting guards who play a lot of minutes. The starting trio of Hubb, Dane Goodwin and Cormac Ryan seldom leave the floor. The three are among the top five in the ACC for minutes played. Goodwin averages a league- and team-high 38.9 per game. Hubb’s at 37.6. In his first full season at Notre Dame after sitting last season as a transfer from Stanford, Ryan averages 37.8.

“It’s going to be crucial to have another guy to kind of mix in in the rotation,” Ryan said. “Be able to lighten the load of everyone.”

Brey prefers to have at least two of those three starters on the floor at all times. There have been games when all three could’ve used more of a break. Wertz will offer that option, but Brey cautioned that he’s more important to this season and to this rotation than someone who simply will shave a few minutes off the starters’ workload.

Adding Wertz works, maybe immediately. Brey likes the way the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder from Charlotte plays. He can put it on the floor and drive it or kick to open shooters. He can play off the ball, play screen and roll, use his dribble to probe the defense. He can score. He can make shots. He has that proverbial feel for the game that’s so important in this free-flowing system.

There have been times during workouts this fall where Wertz has been the best player on the floor. He isn’t crazy athletic, but what guard in this system is?

“He’s like Prentiss and Cormac,” Brey said. “I look at Trey as another weapon for us.”

A weapon that at no time did Brey think of utilizing this season. Wertz was fine with sitting out the NCAA-mandated year under transfer regulations. So was Brey. He did it when he was a player, and it helped him mature as a player and a person. Wertz planned to use his sit-out season to his advantage from an academic standpoint.

One aspect of transferring and sitting out for a year that appealed to him was an ability to move his academic work toward eventually earning an MBA in his fifth year of college in the school’s accelerated program. Former Irish guard Rex Pflueger did the same when he returned for his fifth year following a knee injury in his fourth season.

Wertz averaged 11.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 28.6 minutes per game last season for Santa Clara. He shot 48.9 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 75.7 percent from the line. He also had a team-best 122 assists to 78 turnovers, so he already knows how to follow Brey’s cardinal rule — take care of the ball.

“I don’t care what league you play in if you’re scoring double figures and you’re getting there at a pretty good, efficient rate, which he did,” Brey said. “And he’s older.”

Even when the Irish roster thinned at the start of this season with injuries to guards Robby Carmody (kneecap) and Nik Djogo (ankle) and power forward Elijah Taylor (ankle tendon), Brey never thought about asking the NCAA for an immediate waiver for Wertz. Djogo’s back, but Taylor is out for the season. Carmody might be ready to cut it loose by early February.

Wertz will give the Irish bench a needed boost. He gives the Irish four scholarship players — two of those freshmen — on the bench.

“You look at the group and see Djogo and Wertz coming off, those are two veteran guys who know how to play,” Brey said.

And Wertz will play. Now.

Notre Dame's Trey Wertz drives between Duke's Jaemyn Brakefield (5) and Wendell Moore Jr. (0) during the second half of Wednesday's game at Purcell Pavilion.