InsideNDSports - Five-star guard JJ Starling smiling through summer transition to Notre Dame
{{ timeAgo('2022-07-24 07:00:00 -0500') }} basketball Edit

Five-star guard JJ Starling smiling through summer transition to Notre Dame

Former five-star guard JJ Starling, left, should make an immediate impact for Notre Dame.
Former five-star guard JJ Starling, left, should make an immediate impact for Notre Dame. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

SOUTH BEND — JJ Starling could be the next one-and-done for Notre Dame men’s basketball.

Just months after guard Blake Wesley became the first in program history to make the NBA leap following his freshman season, Starling arrived on Notre Dame’s campus with a five-star rating and McDonald’s All-America pedigree.

Wesley’s immediate rise came as a bit of a surprise even for the most supportive backers of the South Bend product. Starling’s impact as a freshman guard for the Irish has already become more of an expectation.

But Starling, a New York native who spent his last two seasons at nearby La Porte (Ind.) La Lumiere, doesn’t let expectations weigh down his personality. He walks around with a smile on his face.

“That’s just my love for the game,” Starling said. “That’s always been my personality. Even off the court, if I’m just walking on campus, I try to have a smile just to let people know that I’m down-to-earth and I’m not some cocky guy. I’m willing to talk to you and you can talk to me about whatever.

“Same thing on the court. If I see a great play, I’m going to let my teammates know that, ‘Hey, that was a great play,’ and I’m going to be happy for you.”

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If the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Starling continues to play the way he reportedly did in Notre Dame’s 12 summer practice sessions, he’ll be bringing plenty of smiles to his teammates’ faces too.

“He’s very easy to play with,” said head coach Mike Brey. “I have been impressed continually with how good a passer he is.”

That wasn’t the early scouting report Brey had on Starling as a recruit. Last summer, Starling was playing in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League for the City Rocks out of Albany, N.Y. The Irish saw him mostly taking shots for City Rocks rather than creating them. Then when Brey and Notre Dame’s staff watched him more at La Lumiere, they saw his playmaking ability as a passer.

Starling continued that by leading the Irish in assists in a couple summer sessions.

“He has the body to get to the bucket too,” Brey said. “He gets to the paint and makes plays. He loves to defend. He’s very ready. Those three old guys (forward Nate Laszewski and guards Cormac Ryan and Dane Goodwin) know they need him. A similar dynamic to old guys knowing they needed Blake. They’ve been good with him.”

Laszewski, who opted to return to Notre Dame for a fifth season after going through NBA Draft workouts, has taken note of the opportunities Starling can create for him and his teammates.

“JJ can really get in the lane and make plays for other guys and create his own shot as well,” Laszewski said. “He’s really easy to play with. He’s really, really good at what he does.”

What Starling did at La Lumiere, a boarding school in northwest Indiana that’s become a national basketball powerhouse, was average 17.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a senior. At that point, Starling had already signed with the Irish. He quickly acclimated to his new teammates at Notre Dame this summer.

‘First day we had a really good practice,” Starling said. “Myself and the two other freshmen (four-star forwards Ven-Allen Lubin and Dom Campbell), we just came in and we were really willing to work. We just showed we’re going to compete.”

Starling has relied on Ryan and fellow graduate senior guard Trey Wertz to help him learn the intricacies of Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive sets.

“The speed of the game is different,” Starling said. “These guys are much older, faster. So, one move isn’t going to cut it. You have to be able to make multiple moves and make the right read off those moves. Being able to do that has been an adjustment for me.”

But being easy to play with, that comes naturally to Starling. He appreciates playing with older players. Though Starling will likely be joined in Notre Dame’s rotation, or even starting lineup, by fellow freshman Lubin, he’s on a roster that features six graduate seniors.

“I don’t know everything. I’m willing to learn,” Starling said. “These guys have been here way longer than me. I’m just under their wing and ready to learn. I want to be ready to play when it comes time.”

The gap in experience could be intimidating to Starling, but he’s shown no signs of that. And if his confidence gets shaken, he believes Brey will help him through it.

“He just wants me to be comfortable,” Starling said. “He knows I can score. He know I can play make. He’s just giving me that ability to do so.

“Confidence is going to be a big factor. With him, I don’t have to worry about him taking that away or anything. If anything, he’s going to give me more confidence.”

The way Starling likes to play, his teammates should have plenty of confidence in him too. After all, a one-and-done player doesn’t have to be a me-first player.

“I’d rather get a teammate a shot than score,” Starling said. “I love scoring, obviously. Who doesn’t? But at the same time, I love getting my teammates a basket and open looks.”

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