Notre Dame secures commitment from former Penn State PF Kebba Njie
One day off from the verbal commitment/roster reconstruction work was seemingly one day too many for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.
On Saturday, the fifth time in a six-day stretch, the Irish received a verbal commitment from a player who, like the first four, has ties to Penn State dating back to coach Micah Shrewsberry’s two seasons in State College. Unlike the others – all still in high school – the newest Irish addition played college basketball last season and may be a key cog in the Notre Dame rotation this year.
Former Penn State power forward Kebba Njie, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound rising sophomore, committed to Notre Dame on Saturday evening. Njie, who averaged 3.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14.3 minutes with 26 starts while playing in all 37 games last season, entered the transfer portal April 3.
Micah Shrewsberry begins to finalize his first Notre Dame men's basketball coaching staff
Njie made official spring visits to Notre Dame and Central Florida.
"It hasn't been easy," Njie said of what life has been like since last season ended. "It's been a tough process. We had a really good season, and then it was like everything got thrown into a blender."
If there was one former Penn State player who was going to follow his former coach to South Bend – five Nittany Lions entered the transfer portal following Shrewsberry’s departure – Njie was expected to be the one. He was one of four Nittany Lions to play in every game last season.
With the transfer portal plans of Notre Dame power forwards Dom Campbell (Howard) and Ven-Allen Lubin (undecided), Njie is expected to challenge for a starting frontcourt spot this season.
"I'm young, but I've played big-time college basketball," Njie said. "I understand how hard you have to play."
One takeaway Njie had from last season − college basketball is a man's game. With a capital M. It was in the Big Ten. It will be in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Oh, man, it's so physical," he said. "Everyone has their strengths, their go-to moves. You just have to figure out where you fit. Toward the end of the year, I kind of figured out where I fit."
Njie is no stranger to Northern Indiana. A native of Centerville, Ohio, Njie spent his final two years of high school at La Lumiere School in LaPorte. As a senior at La Lu, he was a teammate of former Irish guard J.J. Starling, an Atlantic Coast Conference all-rookie selection last season who transferred to Syracuse. Njie played at La Lu for head coach Patrick Holmes, a Notre Dame graduate and former Irish men's basketball student manager.
Njie was in the gym every morning at La Lu at 5:45.
"He's fearless and he competes," Holmes said Saturday. "I think he found his identity late in the year at Penn State − battling on the boards, rebounding, defending. He did what it takes to win."
Njie was considered a four-star prospect, 118th overall, by 247Sports. Rivals had Njie as a three-star prospect, 147th overall. He chose Penn State over Butler, Kansas State, Ohio State and Purdue. He was the first top 100 prospect to sign with Penn State since 2016. He also reclassified. This past year should've been his senior year of high school instead of his freshman year of college.
In finishing fifth on the squad in total minutes played last season (524:54), Njie shot 52 percent from the field, 20 percent from 3 and 52.5 percent from the foul line. He scored eight points with three rebounds in 17 minutes during Penn State’s NCAA tournament first-round victory over Texas A&M.
Njie’s commitment capped a whirlwind week – a rarity this time of year for Notre Dame men's basketball. Shrewsberry secured commitments from five players – four of whom will join the roster in 2023-24. Njie has the best chance at immediate playing time.
"He knows the system," Holmes said. "They (the Irish staff) made him a priority this spring. He's going to be a player. He'll be a crowd favorite the way he competes."
In addition to Njie, Shrewsberry received commitments from three high school seniors, all of whom had prior commitments to Penn State. Coming to Notre Dame next month for summer school will be power forward Carey Booth (Cherry Creek, Colorado), combo guard Logan Imes (Zionsville, Indiana) and combo guard Braeden Shrewsberry, Micah’s oldest son.
Notre Dame also landed shooting guard Cole Certa (Bloomington, Illinois), who is finishing his junior year.
The commitments of Booth, Imes and Shrewsberry, along with the carryover commitment of Mishawaka Penn guard and Indiana Mr. Basketball Markus Burton, who signed in November under former Irish coach Mike Brey, give Notre Dame a recruiting class considered among the top 30 nationally. Notre Dame is ranked No. 22 by 247Sports. Rivals has Notre Dame at No. 29.
Prior to Brey’s departure, 247Sports had his last recruiting class – which featured Burton, fellow guard Parker Friedrichsen and swingman Brady Dunlap − also No. 22 nationally. Rivals had that original Irish class at No. 36.
Dunlap, from Studio City, California, recently committed to St. John’s while Friedrichsen, from Bixby, Oklahoma, signed with Wake Forest.
Njie is one of two current college transfers headed to Notre Dame for next season. He joins another former Big Ten player – former Northwestern guard Julian Roper, who committed to Notre Dame earlier in the spring. Both are immediately eligible under NCAA transfer regulations.
Notre Dame had three transfers (Marcus Hammond, Cormac Ryan, Trey Wertz) on last year’s roster. Hammond and Wertz exhausted their collegiate eligibilities after the Irish finished 11-21 last season. Ryan will play his COVID year – his sixth year – at North Carolina.
When Shrewsberry was officially introduced on March 30, the Notre Dame roster carried four players – Burton and three returning players in rising seniors Tony Sanders and Matt Zona and rising junior J.R. Konieczny. Saturday’s addition of Njie stretches the 2023-24 roster to nine.
Notre Dame could add four more players – late-rising prep seniors, traditional transfers, graduate transfers – to next season’s roster. The Irish need another frontcourt player and really need a veteran point guard.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.