After a down year from his Notre Dame squad, Mike Brey is looking to lead the Irish to a ninth NCAA tournament in this upcoming season.
To get a better understanding of Notre Dame’s offseason moves, Pittsburgh Sports Now caught up with Tom Noie, who has covered Notre Dame hoops for almost 30 years for the South Bend Tribune.
“I think the fact that they can just have an offseason is just such an advantage for this program,” Noie told Pittsburgh Sports Now. Mike Brey builds so much into the summer program, having all of his guys back on campus for a seven-week summer session. They all take two or three classes depending on what year they are in school, and it’s such an advantage. When they’re not working with the coaching staff, they’re able to lock themselves in the practice facility and just go play.”
Brey brought in two freshman recruits, JR Konieczny and Blake Wesley, who are both ranked within the top 135 prospects in the country according to 247 Sports’ Composite Rankings.
“They’ve got two new freshman, both of whom went to high school probably about less than three miles each from the Notre Dame campus,” Noie said about the Irish recruiting class. “Just to be able to get into the program, get into some sort of routine, and start developing some really good habits and a rhythm heading into the 2021-22 season.”
While Brey did keep most of his roster together throughout this tumultuous offseason in college basketball, he did lose two seniors, including Juwan Durham, who put up 14 points in Notre Dame’s blowout win over Pitt last season.
“With Juwan Durham it was rim protection, shot-blocking, the occasional big game offensively,” Noie went on. “There were a couple occasions where he would give you a double-double for points and rebounds and then oh, by the way, block five, six, seven shots. But I think if you ask Mike Brey and to be honest with you, he wanted a little more production from the low post position than what Juwan Durham gave him.”
The Irish held together a strong core of veterans, which includes the likes of Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski, two players who have torched the ACC since their respective arrivals. But with a record of 11-15, no NCAA Tournament berths in four years, and an ever-booming transfer market, why did they stay at Notre Dame?
“…As they’re kind of meandering toward the end of the season, you’re looking at that veteran roster with guys like Prentiss Hubb, Nate Laszewski, and maybe Dane Goodwin, and saying, he’s leaving, he’s leaving, he’s leaving.’ Turns out, none of those guys leave, and they all come back. That’s good for Notre Dame because you’ve got a veteran group that knows how to play, and they’re hungry.”
In addition to those veterans and the incoming freshman, Brey also nailed the transfer portal himself, bringing in one of the top available forwards in the nation in Paul Atkinson. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 17.6 points along with 7.3 rebounds per game back in his most recent season in 2019, the year in which he won Ivy League Player of the Year.
“When Paul Atkinson hit the transfer portal last year, whenever it was in that college basketball season, Mike Brey looked at Paul Atkinson, looked at the transfer portal, and said, ‘that guy from Yale who was a pre-season and also a postseason all-Ivy League, Ivy League Player of the Year, that’s the guy that we need to get.”