Swarbrick talks men’s and women’s basketball, importance of professional placement
Jack Concannon | Monday, September 2, 2019
Editor’s Note: This is the third part in a series featuring The Observer’s conversation with Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick. In this final installment, Swarbrick details the general health of the University’s athletics programs.
Placing athletes professionally is a key aspect of what the athletic department is currently working on, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick said.
“It’s a commitment that for students who come here as athletes with an aspiration of becoming professionals that we have an absolute obligation to help them get there,” he said. “Just like anyone who comes here with a desire to go to medical school or go to Wall Street or whatever it may be, that is the obligation we have. We love it when that happens.”
Last summer, five of the top 19 picks in the WNBA draft were Notre Dame players. Last week Notre Dame women’s basketball announced the hiring of former Irish guard Michaela Mabrey as an assistant. Three of the last four NFL first rounds have featured at least one Irish player. Swarbrick believes that the school has been very successful in developing professional athletes in recent years.
“Women’s basketball is a unique and powerful example with five draft picks, but the success of football draft picks in recent years, soccer too,” he said. “It’s been a really strong time and demonstrating that we can provide an extraordinary education for you but also prepare you for professional athletic opportunities.”
One reason why the Irish are putting players in the pros across sports is participation in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Membership in the league has been excellent not just for basketball, but across Irish sports. Swarbrick believes the partnership with ACC has been a massive success.
“It’s great for all of our sports. It’s the best lacrosse conference in the country, it’s the best soccer conference in the country, it’s right at the top in baseball, the list goes on and on. Certainly, basketball is the bellwether of the conference,” he said. “It’s how the ACC built its reputation. It’s been phenomenal. You’re playing a likely tournament team every night. Many nights you’re playing somebody who is competing for national championship at the end of the year.”
Swarbrick believes that these big games are exactly what fans and players alike are seeking in a schedule.
“It’s exciting, it’s great for the fans, and it’s great for the players,” he said. “That’s why they come to a place like this. They want those games. It’s great that the conference delivers.”
The challenging nature of the ACC schedule can make competing annually a challenge. The 2017 men’s team suffered injuries and fell short of its lofty goals, and then the team struggled last season after graduating key players. When it was suggested that head coach Mike Brey will be seeking a Brian Kelly 2016-like turnaround, Swarbrick stated the back-to-back NCAA Tournament misses reflect a much different set of challenges than the one faced by the football team in 2016.
“It’s a very different situation that requires a different solution. We knew last year was coming and we would hit a year where we were very young. I think it felt a little bit more dramatic because of Bonzie [Colson] and [Matt Farrell’s] injuries the year before,” he said. “We left the Maui Championship with a title and a top-five ranking and we were positioned for a very special year. When the injuries hit that year went a little south on us, and now we have a second year we knew was coming. You put them together and it feels like they have some significance that I don’t necessarily think they do.”
As of two seasons ago, Brey is now winningest coach in Notre Dame history. He is a master developer of talent, turning two-star recruits like Matt Farrell into stars. Swarbrick stated he has full confidence in Brey to return the men’s program to near-annual tournament visits.
“I have great confidence in this program and in Mike [Brey] and in this team. Between the youth and the injuries last year it was a challenge, but I love the development,” he said. “Everybody’s a year older, stronger and more experienced. If we can maintain our health I think we can surprise a lot of people.”