Noie: Notre Dame taps NIC pipeline again to land prep PG Markus Burton

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Penn High School senior Markus Burton puts on a Notre Dame basketball hat during his commitment announcement Friday, July 29, 2022 at Penn High School.

MISHAWAKA, Ind. − Once the big-time college basketball program right down the road got serious, and it got really serious on all levels over the last week, the recruiting journey of Penn High School senior point guard Markus Burton was all but over. 

On Tuesday, Burton made the short trip from his Mishawaka home to the University of Notre Dame for an unofficial visit. He toured campus. He saw the practice facility. He met with the coaching staff for lunch. He did all the stuff kids do on campus visits. 

A scholarship offer soon followed for Burton, who already held offers from the likes of Ball State, Fort Wayne, Illinois-Chicago and Miami (Ohio). Those mid-major schools were nice, but they weren’t Notre Dame. They weren't the Atlantic Coast Conference. They just weren’t.

Deep down, Burton long held out hope as his prep career progressed that one school – the local school – would show more than a passing interest. 

Barely 72 hours after that visit, Burton committed Friday afternoon to play for that local school. He’ll return for an official visit in September, sign his official letter of intent for Notre Dame in November and enroll next summer, the latest local prospect to look long and hard at staying home to play for the Irish coach Mike Brey, who has created a Northern Indiana Conference pipeline of sorts. 

Once Burton was offered by Brey, that's all he needed to hear. All he hoped to hear.

"I was super happy," he said. "I was like, 'This is the moment that I've been waiting for.' Once I got that feeling it was like, 'Oh, yeah, this is the school.'"

How eager was Burton to get the word out Friday and put on a Notre Dame hat? He sat down in the center chair at the center table in the room that doubles as staff dining at Penn a good 35 minutes before the press conference was scheduled to start. He posed for pictures. He greeted visitors. He checked his phone. He smiled. He was nervous, but a good kind of nervous.

It took all of 14 seconds into Burton's press conference for him to announce for Notre Dame before the room erupted. There were a lot of family, a lot of friends, a lot of teammates. There also was a lot of relief.

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Consider Burton’s recruitment and subsequent commitment a parting gift to Notre Dame from former Irish assistant Ryan Humphrey, who left in July to become an assistant coach at Oklahoma. Though Burton attends school barely nine miles from Notre Dame, it took a few years into his prep career before the coaching staff got serious about him and how he might one day fit in the Irish backcourt. 

Notre Dame just needed to see Burton do it on a bigger stage and against elite competition, which he didn't always see in the NIC. 

"I stayed patient," Burton said of Notre Dame taking a wait-and-see-approach before getting serious with him. "I knew it was going to come. It was just a matter of time. I took my time and just balled, played basketball, controlled what I could control and (did) what I did."

Penn High School senior guard Markus Burton parlayed a big spring and summer into an offer from Notre Dame. For the kid from Mishawaka, that's all he needed. And wanted.

Last winter, Humphrey’s oldest son, Ryan, spent part of his freshman season at Penn on the junior varsity basketball team. On nights when his father could break away from his assistant coaching duties, he’d be in the Palace bleachers to watch the junior varsity game. He'd often stick around for the varsity games, where Burton average 27.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.2 steals for the Kingsmen (24-3). He also scored a single-season school record 734 points and is on track to become the school’s all-time leading scorer. 

Fellow Penn senior guard Joe Smith, who will work in the same backcourt as Burton for a fourth straight season, first started playing against/with Burton in eighth grade.

"I knew then that he was special," Smith said. "He just has a great feel for the game. He's very confident and just makes everybody around him better."

The 6-foot, 170-pound Burton didn’t receive his first college scholarship offer until January, and that came from Bethel University, an NAIA school located even closer to his home than Notre Dame. He’d eventually be offered by several Division I schools as winter became spring and spring became summer, but deep down, he was waiting/hoping for one offer from one school. 

Notre Dame.

Humphrey was intrigued enough to want to follow Burton’s progress this spring and summer along the EYBL/AAU circuit. Burton raised his recruiting profile at the Charlie Hughes Shootout in late June when he scored 35 points in Penn’s 15-point win over Class 4A state champion Indianapolis Cathedral and power forward Xavier Booker, the No. 1 recruit on Notre Dame’s 2023 wish list and top prospect in the nation according to rivals.com.

Booker committed Saturday to Michigan State. 

Needing to see more from Burton, Humphrey saw enough to convince Brey to see Burton for himself, so he did. In Indianapolis and points elsewhere during the evaluation periods. 

Soon after Humphrey left Notre Dame for Oklahoma in late June, he likely convinced Brey to ramp up the recruitment of Burton during an AAU event in Kansas City, Mo. Both Brey, and before him, Humphrey, had seen enough. It was time to get serious with Burton. Schedule a visit. Extend an offer. Go and get the local guy. 

Just like that, after all the waiting, it was over in less than a week. 

"They found me," Burton said of the Irish. "They really liked me."

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Burton becomes the first piece to what will be an interesting Irish recruiting puzzle. How Brey will round out the Class of 2023 is anyone’s guess. Notre Dame’s 2022-23 roster will feature six players in graduate school and four underclassmen. Brey may look to sign only three traditional college prospects (i.e., high school seniors) in this recruiting class – with Booker no longer an option, 6-10 power forward T.J. Power from Worcester, Mass., who also plans to pursue college baseball, moves to the top of the Irish wish list – then turn attention to the transfer portal to fill out the 2022-23 roster. 

Blake Wesley, left, once attended Notre Dame basketball camp and was tutored by Demetrius Jackson, right. Both played in the Northern Indiana Conference, and later, went on to play for Notre Dame. Penn guard Markus Burton is the latest NIC guard to commit to the Irish.

Burton is the third NIC player since 2020 to choose Notre Dame. Two years ago, at the tail-end of a global pandemic, Brey secured commitments from former Riley High School guard Blake Wesley and former South Bend Saint Joseph guard J.R. Konieczny. Last season, Wesley became the first Irish to go one season and done at Notre Dame, where he earned second team All-ACC honors before becoming the first first-round NBA draft pick for Notre Dame since 2015. Wesley was selected 25th in the June draft by the San Antonio Spurs. 

Konieczny, who played 22 total minutes and scored 11 points in a reserve role last season, is set to begin his sophomore year as a backup guard for the perimeter-heavy Irish. 

Burton is the second Penn player to commit to Notre Dame since the fall of 2012 following in the footsteps of former Kingsmen standout Austin Torres. Burton is the fifth NIC player to commit to Notre Dame since 2012. That year, the Irish also added former Marian standout and McDonald’s All-American guard Demetrius Jackson. 

"I feel like I can follow in their path," Burton said.

Prior to 2013, Brey did not sign a single local prospect his first 14 years. Now, it seems, if you’re local, and you’re good, you get/keep Notre Dame’s attention. Happened with Jackson. Happened with Wesley. Happened again Friday with Burton as another really good NIC guard is staying home.