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Men’s Basketball

Recruiting Breakdown: Matt Zona

| Friday, March 27, 2020

While there are undoubtedly many negative consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak, one positive repercussion (and one admittedly unimportant in the grand scheme of things) is that, despite The Observer not being able to print stories, we are now able to experiment with multimedia. What better way to implement some videos in our posts than in breaking down Notre Dame recruits? And we’ll start with the men’s basketball team.


2020 Recruiting Class:

Irish head men’s basketball coach Mike Brey discussed his two-man recruiting class in a presser during the early signing period in November.

“I think we needed frontline guys; we feel really good about our young guards,” Brey said. “What people forget is we’ve got [rising junior guard] Cormac Ryan sitting out. He was a top-100 player and the starting point guard at Stanford last year, so we didn’t really need guards. Even though we lose our starting wings, those young guards have to play for us. You’ve got [forward John] Mooney as a senior, you’ve got [forward] Juwan [Durham] as a senior. So we wanted some frontline bodies.”

While it is true that Mooney has exhausted his eligibility, Durham has one more year after sitting out a season following his transfer from Connecticut. Still, adding to the frontcourt is a good idea, but it would still be nice to have at least one other new guard in the fold besides Ryan next season given rising junior guard Robby Carmody’s injury issues.

Brey went on.

“Both of these kids have great physical frames already,” Brey said. “It’s not like we gotta try and put 20 pounds on them for them to be ready to play like … [rising junior forward] Nate [Laszewski, who] is in that kind of evolution right now.”

That is an apt description, as both have shown physical prowess, albeit in different ways. With that said, let’s get into the breakdown.


Matt Zona

Zona is the 37th-ranked center and the 289th-ranked player in the class of 2020. At 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, he holds offers from Davidson, Penn State, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Brown, Yale, Penn and Harvard. While his offer list isn’t filled with world beaters, Brey has his own thoughts on why more suitors didn’t court Zona early.

“If he would’ve signed late, I bet he would’ve had a lot more people on him,” Brey said “… a little bit like a Mooney and a Martin Geben. He can shoot it out there for a big guy. He’s already about 230 pounds … Skilled, great hands.”

I don’t know what goes through other recruiters’ heads, but I think I see what Brey likes in Zona. I’m a bit surprised he didn’t have a couple of more big offers, and given time to develop, he could be a force for Notre Dame.

“He’s not going to play above the rim … he doesn’t bounce up there”

That’s for sure. Zona’s game is more down to earth, as evidenced by the following play (but to his credit, he does get the and-1).

Despite the athletic limitations, Brey likes Zona’s compensatory skills.

“My feeling was [it’s] another four-year investment, the kind of guy we get that’s just gonna get better and understands he’s gotta come out here and compete to get playing time,” Brey said. “… He’s not going to play above the rim; he’s not Mooney that way. He doesn’t bounce up there. But he’s got great hands, he’s good with the ball and he’s a big who can shoot it out there.”

I have to hand it to Mike Brey, he knows what he wants in a big man. Zona has a similar build to Geben and Mooney, even if he’s giving up a couple of inches. He can use his body as leverage and find good rebounding positions like both of them, and he has a tenacity going to the rim.

Also, as Brey mentioned, Zona has a good shooting touch, and it’s reminiscent of Laszewski’s. What’s more, he appears to be a better shooter off the bounce than Brey’s recent bigs, including Laszewski. His mechanics are certainly better than Mooney’s.

Lastly, in terms of playing through the post, Zona’s handles and passing ability are pretty sound, so he can replicate some of the big-to-big game that Mooney and Durham displayed last season. His back-to-the-basket capabilities will be somewhat limited by his size, but with solid footwork, he can take advantage of mismatches.


To be frank, the zenith of Zona’s capabilities are always going to be limited by his athleticism. The extent of his athletic “wow” factor will probably be an occasional drop step dunk. ACC big men are going to have a height advantage over him, and that already puts him behind the eight ball.

However, his current skills provide a solid foundation to improve and work around his limitations. Decent ball skills and a good jumper are aspects of his game that are certainly improvable and the key to making an undersized big man a verified offensive threat. Plus, his tenacity going after the ball and his intuition for timing his jumps give him a fighting chance defensively and on the boards.

With the proper mentoring, he could become a quality rotational player for the Irish, but odds are pretty long that he ever makes the All-ACC conversation.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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