On Notre Dame basketball team loaded with super seniors, fine freshman will have key role
Snow and start a college basketball game.
Notre Dame freshman power forward Ven-Allen Lubin hasn’t seen or done either, though some of that will change, maybe as soon as Wednesday when Notre Dame plays its lone public preseason exhibition against NAIA Xavier (La.) University. Lubin, who’s been really good and really consistent from the first day of practice in June, is expected to be in the starting lineup.
As for seeing snow for the first time, the Orlando native can wait for that. He admits that it hasn’t been all that cold yet through his first foray of fall on campus. A few frosty mornings here and cold nights there have been startling, but manageable. He knows the other stuff is coming, and when it starts falling, well, he doesn’t quite know what he'll do.
“I’ve never seen snow,” Lubin said with a soft smile. “This is all going to be new to me. It's just going to blow my mind. I’m just not ready for it.”
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Fortunately for Lubin, and for a veteran Irish team that has big plans this winter, he is ready to play basketball at this level. If Wednesday was a regular-season game — that doesn’t arrive until Nov. 10 at home against Radford — Lubin likely would be only the second freshman to start an opener under coach Mike Brey since Torin Francis did it in 2003 (Robby Carmody started the 2018 opener).
In 2003, which ended in Notre Dame’s first run to the Sweet 16 in 16 seasons, Francis had to start. He had to log big minutes. He had to be a main guy. He was ready.
A lot of the same can be said about the 6-foot-9, 226-pound Lubin, who’s already 15 pounds stronger since summer. He has to start. He has to log big minutes. He has to be a main guy. Much like Francis was 19 seasons ago, Lubin looks well-equipped to handle anything about basketball that might be thrown his way.
He’s not shy — except for maybe around the occasional reporter. He’s not unsure that he can handle all that he’s expected to handle this season. He’s still young and inexperienced, but he doesn’t lack confidence with that size and length. That’s something that can carry him — and the Irish — a long way this winter.
Start? Play a lot? Be good from the jump? Nothing really has fazed Lubin in the four months he’s been a part of the program, so it’s surely not going to start on the eve of another season. What allowed him to find a role so early? So confidently? So convincingly? It’s just who he is.
“It’s more of being a quick learner,” Lubin said. “I always want to be the guy that wants to stand up and try it. I’m confident in myself. I always try to do the best I can.
“No matter how many mistakes I make, I’ll always make up for it with effort.”
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An athletic ACC awaits, and Lubin will be ready
Lubin looks the part of being Atlantic Coast Conference ready. He usually looks like what guys on the other teams look like. He doesn't seem all that imposing until he sits down in front of you. Then, he is. When super senior Nate Laszewski, the team’s lone returning big with any extended experience, walked into Rolfs Hall and saw Lubin in basketball gear for the first time in summer, his eyes widened.
It wasn’t anything Lubin really did that first day. He didn’t rip down the rim on a dunk or swat a shot into the Rolfs balcony. He just had the look of someone who was ready to play.
Laszewski saw him, smiled and thought, this will work.
“It’s so awesome to have him on our side,” Laszewski said. “When he walked in in June, I was like, ‘Wow.’”
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Oh, and he can play. Out on the practice floor, Lubin reminded Laszewski a lot of former Irish power forward Juwan Durham with his size and length and wingspan and ability. He'd hold his own on defense, then block a shot on one end, run to the other and then finish with a rebound dunk.
“It kind of opened your eyes like, yeah, this kid can be special,” Laszewski said. “He’s an awesome dude.”
Lubin’s not in this main role this season by accident. Brey didn’t wake one morning, take one hard look at his roster and realize that, uh oh, the Irish might be short on experienced size this season. It didn’t just happen that the coaching staff decided to go with a freshman in the starting lineup in a rotation that’s expected to be dominated by super seniors except for fellow freshman and former McDonald’s All-American J.J. Starling.
This is the path that Lubin has been on since last fall, when he joined Starling and fellow freshman big man Dom Campbell in the Irish recruiting class. One of Brey’s main selling points to get Lubin out of the sun of Orlando and into the dreary winter gray that awaits in South Bend was the chance to play early. The chance to challenge for a starting job early. Like, now.
Brey could’ve taken a deep dive into the transfer portal for an experienced big man. Instead, he barely dipped his toe in those waters. He felt Lubin could do what was needed — and do it from the start.
“That was my main goal,” Lubin said of starting. “I believe I have a skill set and a mindset to start. Once they told me that I’d have that chance, I believed in them. They were serious about me.”
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Lubin is just as serious about proving he can play. Right away, starting Wednesday and whatever that may entail. He missed the secret scrimmage at DePaul late last month after getting hit in the head and knocked woozy two days earlier in a public workout at Purcell Pavilion. Wednesday is the first time that Lubin will have a chance to compete in an actual game setting.
What’s he like in the low post? How does he defend? Run the floor? Communicate? Tag-team with Laszewski to give the Irish something around the rim? He might be nervous for a minute or two, but then, it will be time to play. To compete. To prove his place.
“He’s kind of an old soul,” Brey said. “There’s a real maturity and seriousness about him.”
Lubin knows what awaits down the road — later this month at home against Michigan State, then deeper into league play against the likes of Florida State and North Carolina and Virginia Tech and so many other ACC teams. Bodies. Waves of them. Guys, as Brey often says, who like to play volleyball on the backboard. Guys like Armando Bacot, the ACC preseason player of the year and everybody’s All-American.
Guys who can gobble up rebounds and swat shots in their sleep. Those are the guys that Lubin will have to play against, will have to work his way around and sometimes over. That will be a challenge, but Lubin promises to be ready. More than ready. He insists he’ll defend and move the ball and rebound and do the dirty work come league play.
“I feel like I can bring all those aspects to the table,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge because there are so many great pieces with teams around the ACC.”
Lubin believes that he too can be a key piece on a potentially really good team. Freshman or not, he’s eager to prove he can play, prove worthy of his position, prove that Notre Dame wasn’t a one-year wonder last season.
There’s already a lot on Lubin’s plate, but that's fine. He’s hungry.
“I will do my best,” he said. “I’m going to show the world who I am.”
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
WHO: Notre Dame vs. Xavier (La.).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)
WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
TICKETS: Plenty available.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com/tnoieNDI
NOTING: Xavier is an NAIA school located in New Orleans with an enrollment of 2,500. It is the only Catholic school among Historically Black Colleges and Universities.... The Gold Rush finished 23-7 overall, 9-2 last season. … Xavier is picked this season to finish second in the 11-team Red River Athletic Conference. … The Gold Rush opened their regular season Monday with a 77-65 victory at home against Crowley’s Ridge (Ark.) College. … Xavier’s roster of 20 players features 13 players from Louisiana. … This is the lone exhibition game for Notre Dame, which opens the regular season at home Nov. 10 against Radford.