Notre Dame women's hoops signs elite prospects Brunelle and Peoples

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Haley Jones and Aliyah Boston — ESPN’s No. 1 and No. 3-rated girls high school basketball prospects in the class of 2019 — each continue to count Notre Dame as a finalist in their recruitment. But if they do wind up with the Irish, it’ll apparently come as a surprise even to coach Muffet McGraw.

“No, we’re done. I think we’re done,” McGraw said Thursday afternoon of whether Notre Dame will be adding any more high school players to a signee list that stands at merely two during a season in which the Irish are scheduled to exhaust the eligibility of four stars.

Following through on previously announced verbal commitments to Notre Dame, Samantha Brunelle (ranked No. 4 by ESPN) made it official Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s eight-day early signing period, and Anaya Peoples (No. 21) did so Thursday.

“We need people who can come in and play right away, and that’s what we got, so I’m really happy about that,” McGraw said of adding the duo. “We’re going to have a lot of holes to fill next year, and Jackie (Young, the only scholarship junior on the current ND roster) is going to need some help.”

Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner are each slated to complete their much-decorated Irish careers at the end of the current season.

“We’ll probably look at a grad transfer,” McGraw said of an alternative to signing more high schoolers from the class of 2019.

The coach, in her 32nd season at Notre Dame, had never added a transfer until last year when Shepard, then a junior, came over from Nebraska, and Lili Thompson came aboard as a Stanford graduate with a year of eligibility remaining.

Shepard played a leading role in helping the Irish win the national title and Thompson was a key rotation regular before suffering a season-ending injury Dec. 31.

McGraw said adding one more player is “more likely” than adding two.

“I wouldn’t mind taking two more,” McGraw said of adding enough, be they transfers or high schoolers, to in effect replace the four who will depart, “(but even with one), we’ll still have a walk-on (in Kaitlin Cole), so we’ll have 10 players.”

The coach indicated a veteran might be the best route to go anyway.

“It would be great if we could get a grad transfer to come in with Jackie and that would balance things out a little better (than another freshman),” McGraw said of the 2019-20 roster makeup.

Of course, in all likelihood, Jones or Boston would still be heartily welcomed if either did choose the Irish. Coaches can’t talk publicly about specific high school players until they do sign. Beyond those two elite prospects, the list of uncommitted top high school prospects has largely dried up.

Those two and No. 9 Richea Jackson, which Notre Dame apparently is not recruiting, are the only uncommitted seniors remaining among players listed in ESPN’s top 67.

Jones — who has named Notre Dame, Connecticut, Oregon, South Carolina and Stanford as her finalists — is scheduled to announce her selection around 11 a.m., Monday on ESPN.

Boston — who has declared Notre Dame, Connecticut, Ohio State and South Carolina as her final four — has not shared a timeline for making her pick.

McGraw said Brunelle and Peoples each fill specific needs for the Irish beyond just being ready to play right away.

“We needed a 3-point shooter, and Sam Brunelle’s the best shooter in her class,” McGraw said of the 6-foot-2 forward from William Monroe High School in Ruckersville, Va. “We’re just thrilled to get a player of her caliber.

“She’s also an incredibly good teammate, a great teammate. She’s really unselfish. She’s a good passer. She can rebound. She can do a lot of things.”

Besides her shooting range, Brunelle is adept at posting up, McGraw added.

Peoples, meanwhile, “is somebody that can guard the ball, which we haven’t had since Skylar (Diggins) graduated (in 2013),” the coach said of the incoming 5-10 guard from Schlarman Academy in Danville, Ill. “We haven’t had anybody that can really get up and pressure the ball, so I’m excited about her ability to defend, but she also can get to the rim.

“She’s going to get to the free throw line. I think she’s a really smart player.”

Though widely listed as a point guard, Peoples likely will not fill that role with the Irish, according to McGraw.

“But she definitely will pick up things quickly,” the coach said, and “be able to handle the ball.”

Brunelle long occupied the No. 1 slot in ESPN’s ratings, but was dropped to No. 4 in September by Dan Olson, who handles those rankings.

Olson said Thursday by phone that the change was more a reflection of what other players achieved over the summer than a change in his own opinion about Brunelle.

“She didn’t play a lot,” Olson said of Brunelle’s role on the United States’ gold medal-winning U17 team, “and some of those other girls played more, played great.”

Boston, a post player, Jones, a wing, and Team USA MVP Jordan Horston — a Tennessee recruit ranked No. 2 by Olson, and No. 1 among guards — were the U17 club’s top three scorers.

“(Brunelle) may have slipped a little over the summer,” Olson said. “Nonetheless, this kid not only brings an offensive skill set out to the 3-point line, but the intangible of being a quality teammate, which is a priceless commodity.”

Peoples “is great off the dribble, can knock down jump shots with consistency and can play the one, two or even three guard,” Olson said.

Olson labels both of the Irish recruits great offensive players, highly versatile, proven winners and “great fits for Notre Dame.”

Prospects Nation, another leader in women’s basketball recruiting information, has Peoples rated significantly higher than Olson does, at No. 7 overall, with Brunelle at No. 5.

Brunelle averaged 30.0 points, 15.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a junior last season while leading William Monroe to a 24-2 record and its first playoff appearance since 1988.

Peoples averaged 16.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 steals while steering Schlarman to a 33-1 mark and a Illinois Class 1A state championship.

She was named USA Today Illinois Player of the Year, while Brunelle’s was chosen as Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year.

William Monroe High’s Samantha Brunelle, signed with Notre Dame this week, as did Anaya Peoples of Danville, Ill.

WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (2-0) vs. No. 15 DePaul (1-0).

WHERE: Wintrust Arena (10,387), Chicago.

WHEN: Saturday, 2 p.m. EST.

TICKETS: Available, $15 to $75.

RADIO: Pulse (103.1/96.9/92.1 FM).