Men's Basketball: Already a crowded Irish backcourt adds another veteran guard

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Former Niagara guard Marcus Hammond will play his final college season at Notre Dame.

One veteran left-handed point guard leaves the Notre Dame men’s basketball program, another arrives. 

So it goes for the Irish, who on Monday afternoon added former Niagara guard/graduate transfer Marcus Hammond for the 2022-23 season. A 6-foot-3, 173-pound native of Queens, New York, Hammond took an official visit to Notre Dame over the weekend. He also considered Georgetown (one of two finalists), Kansas State and Rutgers. 

Hammond entered the transfer portal on March 22 – two days after Notre Dame’s season ended with a loss to Texas Tech in the second round of the NCAA tournament. At the time, Hammond left open the possibility of returning to Niagara for his super senior (COVID) season. 

There was something about the relationship that Hammond built with Irish head coach Mike Brey and assistant coach Antoni Wyche that he couldn't let go.

"They made me comfortable on the phone," Hammond said late Monday from the Niagara campus, where he was watching the Brooklyn-Boston NBA playoff game on TV. "I like Coach Brey's system, how his top guys play a lot. That's something that I took into account making my decision."

As a senior with the Purple Eagles this past season, Hammond averaged a team-high 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists in a team-high 34.0 minutes. He shot .430 percent from the field, .370 from 3 and .831 percent from the foul line. He was a first team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference selection. 

One of more than 1,400 players in the transfer portal, Hammond played last season for coach Greg Paulus, who quietly committed to Notre Dame as a high school senior before eventually signing with Duke. 

Niagara finished 14-16. Hammond didn't start thinking about maybe moving up a level – and moving all the way up to the Atlantic Coast Conference – until this season ended. Doing so earlier, he insisted, would've been disrespectful to his then-Niagara teammates.

"I knew there was a possibility that (transferring) may happen," he said. "I didn't think about (leaving) until the year was over. Then I was like, 'Yeah, why not?'

"The ACC, you can't get any better than that."

Hammond lost track of the number of times his mind drifted Monday and he started thinking about playing in the ACC. About playing at Duke. About playing North Carolina. Why? It's the A-C-C.

"This day has been a total head-bust, for sure," he said. "It's like, wow, this is actually happening. I'm definitely blessed and honored to play for Coach Brey."

► Notes:Dane Goodwin will return for one more run

Women's basketball:Notre Dame's Maya Dodson on NCAA denial: 'There wasn’t any way to persuade them otherwise'

As a junior, Hammond averaged 12.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 34.5 minutes. He played 30-plus minutes in each of his last three seasons at Niagara. He has one year of eligibility remaining. 

Notre Dame is in need of another guard — point or combo — following the (likely) loss of two off last season’s team that finished 24-11, 15-5 and second place in the ACC.

Senior guard Prentiss Hubb, a four-year starter who averaged 10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 34.9 minutes over 125 games decided not to return for his super senior season. Hubb led the ACC in assist/turnover ratio for league games this past season (4.40). 

Getting Hammond, who might be more scorer than facilitator, also all but closes the door on any possibility that South Bend native Blake Wesley returns for his sophomore season. After leading the Irish in scoring (14.4 ppg.) and making the league’s all-freshman and second team, Wesley announced at the end of March that he was entering the NBA draft. 

Dec 3, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Niagara Purple Eagles guard Marcus Hammond (10) controls the ball against the Syracuse Orange during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on who you talked to, Wesley left open the (slight) chance of returning for a second season. Instead, he likely becomes the first Irish in program history to be a one-and-done. Wesley is projected to be a mid- to late-first round selection in the late June draft. 

Hammond said Notre Dame first contacted him around the first of April – which would've been only hours after Wesley announced he was leaving.

No Hubb and now likely no Wesley meant that Brey and his staff needed to go the transfer portal route to fill a key need for 2022-23. Veteran guard Dane Goodwin announced Friday via social media that he would return for his super senior year next season. Fellow guards Cormac Ryan and Trey Wertz are expected to also return. Wertz served as Hammond's host last weekend.

Notre Dame also adds to the guard rotation freshman J.J. Starling, a McDonald’s All-American.

"The guys coming back, they're a hell of a team," Hammond said. "It just made the decision so much easier. Ultimately, I just want to win. It's going to be hard to guard us.

"We really have a chance to do damage."

None of the current guards are “true” point guards. Hubb and Wesley handled much of that heavy lifting last season. Starling, like Ryan, might be better doing a little of everything. He played mostly off the ball this past season at La Lumiere School in nearby LaPorte. 

"He's a heck of a player," Hammond said. "He's a McDonald's All-American, but he's so much more."

Notre Dame moves forward with a guard rotation of Goodwin, Ryan, Wertz, Hammond, Starling and soon-to-be sophomore J.R. Konieczny next season. The 6-6 Konieczny is listed as a guard but may see more time next season as a small forward. 

"Everybody's a threat," Hammond said. "The floor spacing's going to be incredible. It's really going to be fun."

Brey’s long been a believer that you can never have too many guards, and he’s got a lot of them. 

Ryan (Stanford) and Wertz (Santa Clara) are also transfers. Hammond is the first transfer (and graduate transfer) to choose Notre Dame since former Irish power forward Paul Atkinson arrived from Yale last summer. Atkinson averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds in 27.6 minutes during his lone season in South Bend. 

Dec 3, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Niagara Purple Eagles guard Marcus Hammond (10) shoots the ball against the Syracuse Orange during the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Needing a replacement for Atkinson, Notre Dame also is looking at former Wright State power forward Grant Basile, a Wisconsin native who also visited campus over the weekend. The 6-9, 225-pound Basile averaged 18.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 32.6 minutes this past season for a Wright State team that finished 22-14. Like Notre Dame, Wright State played in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio before advancing to the first round in San Diego, where it lost to No. 1 seed Arizona. 

Basile’s final four schools are reportedly Iowa State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. 

The Irish have added at least one transfer each of the last four seasons – Ryan (2019), Wertz (2020), Atkinson (2021) and Hammond (2022), who will be the first Queens native to play at Notre Dame since former Irish power forward Ty Nash.

Hammond will graduate from Niagara early next month. He'll be back out at Notre Dame when summer school starts in June.

"Can't wait," he said. "Get right to work." 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.