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Irish Sports Roundup: ND joining the ACC, basketball honors, hoops and gridiron recruiting

| Monday, July 27, 2020

The summer is winding down and we are just days away from Notre Dame students arriving to campus and football players beginning fall camp. In anticipation of both the academic and (hopefully) athletic year starting back up, here’s some Notre Dame sports news you need to know to start your week.


Notre Dame Football and the ACC Championship Game

Brett McMurphy of Stadium reported Friday that the ACC was developing a football scheduling plan wherein teams, including Notre Dame, would play 10 conference games with the opportunity to play one non-conference opponent as well.

This would allow for several teams to preserve their annual rivalry games with SEC opponents, such as Kentucky-Louisville, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State and South Carolina-Clemson, to name some.

Soon after McMurphy tweeted the news, David Teel of The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that there was talk of Notre Dame being eligible for the ACC Championship game next season as an effective member of the ACC for a season.

The Irish have never joined a conference in football, but do have a deal with the ACC for all other sports with the exception of hockey, which is a member of the Big Ten.

Unfortunately, the prospects for a fall football season seem to be getting dimmer. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) just announced Monday that they would follow in the Ivy League’s footsteps and cancel all fall sports. Both Michigan State and Rutgers also suspended workouts and quarantined or isolated all athletes due to contact tracing after several positive tests.


Mike Brey dishing out offers

Men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey handed out several offers to high-level prospects in the 2021 and 2022 classes this past week. Four-star power forward Daron Holmes Jr. and four-star shooting guard Jordan Hawkins added the Irish to their offer sheets.

Holmes is the No. 30 player nationally and No. 9 power forward, and Hawkins is No. 49 and the No. 15 two-guard in the 2021 class. Holmes comes from the prestigious Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla., while Hawkins is a product of DeMatha Catholic High School, part of Notre Dame’s D.C. pipeline and Brey’s alma mater.

They join four-star 2021 shooting guard Blake Wesley out of Riley High School in South Bend as having an Irish offer. Notre Dame’s only current commit in the class is three-star J.R. Koniecny, a 6-foot-7 small forward and another local product from St. Joseph High School in South Bend.

After this season, only rising graduate student forwards Juwan Durham and Nik Djogo will have exhausted their eligibility for the Irish, leaving nine scholarship players and walk-on guard Elijah Morgan assuming that no one else departs.

Four more players will exhaust their eligibility by the end of the 2021-22 season. In anticipation of their departures, Brey handed out a slew of offers to more players in the 2022 class. Five-star point guard Jaden Bradley, the No. 7 player nationally, made the cut, along with three-star forwards Ben Middlebrooks (No. 106), Isaac Traudt (No. 119) and Kyle Filipowski (No. 157).


Men’s and women’s basketball players earning honors

Also of note for the men’s basketball team, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) awarded the Irish a Team Academic Excellence Award for the fourth consecutive season. The minimum requirement for the reward is a cumulative team GPA of 3.0, with Notre Dame players posting a 3.338 GPA over the last season. They join Stanford, Villanova and Seton Hall as the only other programs to have earned this award each of the last four seasons.

For the women’s program, former Irish forward and captain Natalie Achonwa was awarded the WNBA’s Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award for outstanding leadership and commitment to the community.

“The award was created to recognize a WNBA player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community where she works or lives and focuses exclusively on a player’s activities during the offseason,” a statement from the WNBA said. “The award and its winner reflect Staley’s spirit, leadership, charitable efforts, love for the game and inspirational presence in the community.”

Achonwa played for the Irish from 2010 to 2014, hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, and was the youngest player ever to play for the Canadian National Team when she was only 16. The Irish made the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament each year of Achonwa’s Notre Dame tenure. She was honored with her jersey now hanging in the rafters of Purcell Pavilion after last season.

Achonwa increased her scoring output every season in South Bend, averaging double figures each of her last two seasons, and peaked at a 9.4 rebounds per game average as a junior. She was drafted by the Indiana Fever with the ninth overall pick of the 2014 WNBA Draft.


Football recruiting

This week Notre Dame locked up two commitments, one in the 2021 class and two from the class of 2022.

The Irish first got a commitment from cornerback Chance Tucker out of Encino, Calif. Per a composite ranking, Tucker is the 49th-ranked cornerback in the 2021 class and 61st-ranked player in the state of California. Washington and Notre Dame were considered the favorites for Tucker with the Irish winning out over the Huskies and several other Pac-12 schools.

Tucker is now the third cornerback commit of the cycle that newly minted cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens has locked down for the Irish. He joins four-star corner Philip Riley out of Florida, three-star corner Ryan Barnes of Maryland and three-star safety Justin Walters in Notre Dame’s current 2021 defensive back class.

After Tucker’s commitment on Wednesday, Notre Dame landed its first public commit of the 2022 class on Saturday with four-star offensive tackle Joey Tanona pledging to the Irish. Tanona is the No. 131 overall player, No. 13 offensive tackle and No. 2 player out of Indiana in the 2022 class, according to a 247Sports composite.

Tanona was followed Monday by Jack Nickel, a four-star recruit and the No. 12 tight end in 2022. Nickel silently committed to the Notre Dame staff earlier but just made his decision public this week. His father, Paul, played tight end for Stanford in the ‘90s after being passed over in his recruitment by the Irish, who opted instead for eventual first round NFL Draft pick Irv Smith. The younger Nickel marks the first pledge of new tight end coach John McNulty’s Notre Dame tenure.

As for the 2021 recruiting cycle, the Irish are still in the mix for four-star wide receiver Jayden Thomas of Georgia, making his top five on July 17. Thomas would be a welcome addition after losing four-star Georgia receiver Deion Colzie to a decommitment back in March.

Of immediate note, however, is the upcoming commitment of four-star Michigan offensive lineman Rocco Spindler. Spindler, 247Sports’ No. 48 overall player and No. 3 offensive guard nationally, is seen by many as a make-or-break commitment for Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting class, especially along the offensive line.

The Irish are in his final five along with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and LSU. His commitment date is set for Aug. 8.

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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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