How's the future going to come together for Notre Dame men's basketball program?
Angst was everywhere.
In the hours after former Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey announced in late January that last season would be his last after 23 seasons, two of the program’s three incoming recruits who signed in November asked for and received releases from their national letters of intent.
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In the days that followed the official end of Notre Dame’s 11-21 season, three Irish jumped into the expansive transfer portal and eventually found new homes. Freshman guard J.J. Starling quickly landed at Syracuse. Fellow freshman Dom Campbell made a surprise hop to Howard. Fifth-year senior Robby Carmody, who battled one injury after another, has moved to Mercer.
A fourth, three-time team captain Cormac Ryan, plans to file the necessary paperwork to enter the 2023 NBA draft. Ryan also will keep open the option of returning to college for a sixth year, but likely not at Notre Dame. He also is in the portal, which as of Wednesday morning contained the names of more than 1,275 players looking to find or have found new basketball homes.
Last week when Notre Dame officially introduced head coach Micah Shrewsberry, the Irish roster carried five players — four returnees and incoming freshman Markus Burton. Thus, the angst (and some anger) from Irish fans, who wanted a head coach hired sooner than later (it was way later) to keep some semblance of roster stability.
That’s also gone, but Shrewsberry doesn’t quite see it in such desperate ways. There’s a list as long as a basketball court (94 feet) of what the new coach needs to address in the coming days and weeks and months. Near the top is roster reconstruction. It may take time — more than many like — but Shrewsberry believes Notre Dame can get there.
“Recruiting is really important; it never stops,” he said last week. “It hasn’t since this change happened. There’s time. We’ve got a lot of time.”
Time to restock the roster. Time to hire the coaching/support staff. Time to have the guys who are here understand how Shrewsberry wants to play. Time.
“I don’t want to rush things,” Shrewsberry said. “I want to find the right fits recruiting-wise and find the right fits staff-wise.”
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Both likely will carry a heavy Penn State influence. Five players off last year's team are currently in the portal. It’s expected that part of the restock will include what once was a three-man Penn State recruiting class that ranked among the nation’s Top 30. That includes Top 100 prospect/power forward Carey Booth (Wolfeboro, New Hampshire) and guards Logan Imes (Zionsville, Indiana) and Shrewsberry’s oldest son, Braeden. Booth and Imes have asked for and have bene released from the NLIs.
Shrewsberry indicated last week that Purcell Pavilion is the future homecourt of his son, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound combo guard who averaged 17.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals as a senior for a State College (Pa.) Area High School that finished 25-3 last season.
Coach Shrewsberry’s director of recruiting at Penn State, Brian Snow, is expected to take a similar position at Notre Dame. He may be one of several former Nittany Lion assistants/support staff to make the move to Indiana with the Indiana native.
Staff announcements/appointments will be made once the human resources process plays out at Notre Dame.
The Irish basketball program can add as many as eight players to its current roster. It might add incoming freshmen. It might add graduate transfers. It might go an entirely new route and transfers who are immediate eligible. That’s a road the previous coaching staff never traveled (for myriad reasons).
“We only need five; we’ve got five and we’re good,” Shrewsberry said of how many he needs to put a team on the floor. “I’m not going to skip steps to build a roster.”
He’s also not going to ignore exploring possible avenues to build out that roster. If it’s signing freshmen, then it’s freshmen. If it’s getting a graduate transfer or two or three, then it’s graduate transfers. If it’s going with traditional transfers who now can come in and play right away, maybe they can go that route.
It’s the college basketball way of today. It wasn’t that way three years ago, but that’s so yesterday.
“That’s what college basketball is — it's about adapting,” Shrewsberry said. “Whatever is happening, then you better get on board or you're going to be left behind. I’m not in the business of getting left behind.
“We’re going to adapt and we’re going to adjust and we’re going to do what’s right for us.”
It was bound to surface given Shrewsberry’s connection to both programs. During his introductory press conference, he was asked the possibility of Notre Dame playing Butler and Purdue.
Shrewsberry served on the staffs of both schools before becoming a Division I head coach.
Under the format of the since-gone Crossroads Classic, Notre Dame and Purdue played every other year dating back to 2012. The Irish went 3-2 against the Boilers. The teams haven’t played a true regular-season game (outside the Crossroads) since 1966. Notre Dame has not played in West Lafayette since 1965.
Notre Dame and Butler haven’t played a traditional regular-season game since 1995. The teams met at then-Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2006 at part of the preseason National Invitation Tournament. They last played in 2015 in a memorable second-round NCAA tournament game in Pittsburgh. That was the Pat Connaughton block/overtime Irish win to send them to the Sweet 16.
“We’ll play anybody,” Shrewsberry said. “That’s how you get better. I’m sure that would be a huge attraction. I’d love to get them up here.
“I’ve got to look and see what else we’ve got to do first.”
There are a few scheduling holes to fill for 2023-24. Notre Dame owes Marquette, a likely preseason top-five team, a return game in early December to close out a two-year deal. It also is scheduled to participate in the Legends Classic on Nov. 16-17 at Barclays Center as part of their multi-team event (MTE). Also slated for the two-day/two-game event are Auburn, Oklahoma State and St. Bonaventure.
Next season also will be the first for the Atlantic Coast Conference-Southeastern Conference Challenge, which replaces the since-shelved Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Notre Dame went 5-5 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The ACC has 15 teams; the SEC carries 14. It remains to be seen if Notre Dame is selected in the inaugural year of the event. Under the old ACC/Big Ten Challenge format, teams that finished last in their leagues or had a coaching change were afforded the option of not participating in the challenge the following year.
Notre Dame is one of three ACC schools (Georgia Tech, Syracuse) with new coaches. Matchups will be finalized in late spring/early summer. As of now, there is no Big Ten team on Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule. The last time that happened was 2007-08.
However the schedule shakes out, Shrewsberry’s first order of business when next season starts is to get the Irish to be better and believe away from home. For the first time in program history, Notre Dame went winless in league play on the road (0-10) and a combined 0-13 away from home. Under Shrewsberry last season, Penn State was 4-6 on the road in league play and a combined 10-10 away from home.
Former Irish power forward Jordan Cornette, still the leading shot blocker (201) in program history, has enough of a pulse on the heartbeat of the 75 or so former players who were recruited and coached by Brey during his 23 seasons at Notre Dame to understand what hiring Shrewsberry means.
When he talked excitedly last week about the hiring, he meant it. Not just for him, but his fellow former Irish. That doesn’t always happen when the coach who recruited and taught and nurtured you leaves.
In this case, it might.
“It speaks to the job that Coach Brey did here,” Cornette said. “The foundation was strong. You make a hire like this, then it injects even more life into a program that our former guys want to be around.”
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Cornette has talked with enough former players, be it Matt Carroll or David Graves, Luke Harangody or Kyle McAlarney that absolutely nobody had any skepticism about the future. All of them were behind the hire, and they’re behind Shrewsberry, who talked of challenging for national championships. That’s talk that the former Irish loved to hear from a guy few know.
“This has unified us,” Cornette said, “fortified us even more with an excitement of where this is going.”
Former Irish power forward Nate Laszewski scored 12 points with six rebounds in Friday’s NABC-Reese’s College All-Star Game in Houston.
Laszewski made three of six shots from the floor – all 3-pointers – and three of four free throws in a 104-99 loss. Laszewski was a member of an East team that also included Tyree Appleby (Wake Forest), Seth Lundy (Penn State) and Justyn Mutts (Virginia Tech).
Laszewski toyed with the idea of turning pro last season before returning for his super senior season that saw him average team-bests in points (13.7) and rebounds (7.2) in 34.0 minutes per game. He has been invited to the 69th annual Portsmouth (Virginia) Invitational Tournament, an NBA showcase limited to college seniors/super seniors with fringe NBA prospects.
Fellow former Irish Dane Goodwin, Marcus Hammond and Trey Wertz also might find a spot on one of the tournament’s eight rosters. Play begins April 12.
Mike Brey's next move
When word broke and then eventually fizzled late last month that Brey was in line to become the next head coach at USF, the former Irish coach reportedly planned to take some time away and maybe get into broadcasting.
If the 64-year-old Brey decides that he has a coaching itch that just has to be scratched, look for him to resurface sometime in the offseason as an NBA assistant. If that happens, it would be with the Atlanta Hawks, who are led by former Duke point guard/assistant coach Quin Snyder. Brey and Snyder’s relationship dates back to Snyder’s playing days in Durham.
Brey was far enough down the hiring road for the USF job that he was putting together a staff and working the transfer portal for prospective players before reports surfaced that he and athletic director Michael Kelly could not agree on a contract.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.