2017 squad picks up where last year’s left off
Marek Mazurek | Friday, July 7, 2017
The 2017 version of Notre Dame is beginning to take shape.
The Irish have started summer practices in the last week, with Thursday’s session being open to the media.
The squad ran through a series of drills, followed by 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 action.
Notre Dame’s first game of the 2017 season against DePaul is over four months away, but on paper, the Irish should be poised to set up shop in the top-25 rankings and potentially make a run at an ACC title.
The 2017 Irish will look very similar to the 2016 team that finished third in the ACC regular season and runner-up in the ACC tournament. The only two departing members of last year’s team are former captains Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem. Forward Austin Torres elected to stay for a fifth season of eligibility.
Though they were Notre Dame’s only two losses on the roster, Vasturia and Beachem were big contributors last year and the Irish will miss them, especially when it comes to leadership.
This year, that mantle will fall to Torres and seniors Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson. Despite the change, Farrell thinks the differing leadership styles of the Irish upperclassmen will meld well together.
“We’re going to work on leading,” Farrell said. “We have different ways of leading. I have a different way than Bonzie, Bonzie has a different way than Torres, and we have to find a way to bring that all together and lead the right way.”
In addition to being different than each other, Colson and Farrell are certainly different than Vasturia and Beachem, both of whom brought a more calm, never-too-high but never-too-low presence last year. Irish head coach Mike Brey said that’s a role he may have to step into more this coming season as the reassuring presence.
“I think the biggest challenge for me will be keeping them loose when they have disappointment,” Brey said. “This is a group that’s really hard on themselves, and I’ve got to help them think of the big picture. Matty and Bonzie are setting a great tone.”
Beyond Farrell, Colson and Torres, junior guard Rex Pflueger may also take the next step towards a leadership role, as he looks to see a significant increase in playing time.
“I definitely believe that I’m going to be a voice for our team this year,” Pflueger said. “I have two years under my belt. I’ve been through the fire a little bit with our team, so I’m excited to be a voice for us.
There shouldn’t be a lot to worry about offensively for the Irish with Colson and Farrell returning. The duo looked like Notre Dame’s best offensive options last year, and without Vasturia or Beachem, the two should see even more looks.
But beyond Farrell and Colson, the third option on offense is still up in the air. Pflueger, sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs, freshman guard D.J. Harvey and even sophomore forward John Mooney could emerge as that third scorer, Brey said.
“I think it’s a T.J. Gibbs-Rex Pflueger kind of thing,” Brey said. “Both of those guys are going to play more minutes, and I think when they do, they’ll score for us. And then you’re looking at what does a D.J. Harvey do as a young guy, because he has the ability to score. What does a Johnny Mooney do? Can [senior forward] Martin Geben give us a little more of that? But I think it starts with Rex and T.J.”
Pflueger, having experience as a starter, in particular looks poised for a breakout season offensively, as he has mainly been used as a lockdown defender in his first two years on the team.
“It’s time for me to be more aggressive, I think,” Pflueger said. It’s time for me to take that role. I know V.J. and Steve were great sources of scoring for us, and I know I can help fulfill that role. I feel like I can do a little bit of everything — driving, shooting, I want to be a playmaker.”
After three consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament Round of 32 and three consecutive successful showings in one of the strongest conferences in college basketball, the Irish are on a big upswing.
Compared to the early years of Mike Brey’s tenure when just making the NCAA tournament was a victory, Brey’s squads in the recent past have been plays away from the Final Four.
That success, combined with a new practice facility on the horizon and a young coaching staff, have led to marked success for Notre Dame on the recruiting trail.
Since the end of the academic year in mid-May, Brey has landed three commitments from ESPN’s top 100 athletes in guards Prentiss Hubb, Rob Carmody and Dane Goodwin.
Hubb hails from Maryland — an area where Brey excels in recruiting — and looks to be a point guard at the college level. In late June, Carmody, a Pennsylvania native, verbally committed, and so did Goodwin two weeks later.
With the guard position wrapped up, Brey said the trio of verbal commitments gives him the freedom to be more selective with his approach in the upcoming July evaluation period.
“We could take five in this class,” Brey said of the 2018 recruiting class. “Or maybe it’s three and you don’t force anything and you think about another transfer at Christmas or in the spring. With what’s on the board for us, we can methodically go out there now in the next couple weeks. We don’t need to force anything.”
And while fans are eager to land a big frontcourt commitment, Brey said his young bigs have a lot of potential.
“We’ve got good young big guys,” Brey said. “[Junior Elijah] Burns, Mooney and [UConn transfer] Juwan [Durham] are really good big guys. We don’t need to force a big if it’s not a good fit for us.”