Matt Farrell went from unproven to Atlantic Coast Conference star in his first year as a starter.
The Notre Dame rising senior is now tasked with repeating his breakout 2016-17 season. Farrell teams up with fellow senior Bonzie Colson to form one of the ACC’s best inside-outside tandems, hoping to continue the team’s postseason success.
That process started Tuesday.
Head coach Mike Brey said he was curious who would step up as vocal leaders during the spring workout. Farrell, a fiery New Jersey native, and Colson have no trouble making their feelings known on the court.
That’s important for an Irish team that replaces captains V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, the two winningest players in program history.
“It’s important for me and Bonzie to step into these leadership roles,” Farrell said. “Especially now it starts [Tuesday] with the practice and set things right just like Steve and V.J. did. Just like the former senior captains have done.”
The 6-1, 178-pound Farrell went from playing 13.4 minutes per game as a sophomore to 34.4 as a junior. He shot 44.8 percent from the field and 42.0 percent from three-point range, while averaging 5.4 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
His 14.1 points per game was third on the team behind Colson and Beachem, a drastic improvement from the 2.6 per game he averaged as a sophomore.
When asked Monday after the team’s award banquet what he’ll work on, Farrell — who Brey said is better than former Duke star Bobby Hurley — said he has a few things he’d like to improve this offseason.
“Continue to work on my defense,” Farrell said. “I want to work on being more explosive around the rim. I’m definitely to work on that with [strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski]. We’ve already talked.”
Brey said in March that he’s had conversations with pro scouts about Farrell, who made All-ACC Tournament first team.
“The NBA is really intrigued about him,” Brey said of Farrell. “There’s a bunch of guys intrigued about him. He’s got all of their attention. He’s just really intriguing. He’s come out of nowhere, and that league is really intrigued by him.
“Just by talking to different scouts and different people, they’ll thoroughly analyze him through his senior year.”
Brey drew a comparison with former Northeastern guard J.J. Barea, a six-footer who has gone on to have a successful NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks.
“With the new rules in that league, you can’t hold and grab,” Brey said. “Him getting places on the floor, poor man’s Steve Nash kind of stuff. Plus he shoots it, and he shoots it deep. He’s an amazing story, he really is.”
Farrell and Colson are surefire captains for a team looking to make its fourth straight NCAA Tournament. Colson said the “sky’s the limit” for the returning players, and Farrell said it’s his job as a leader and point guard to get those players comfortable in the rotation.
Guys like junior forward Elijah Burns, sophomore forward John Mooney, sophomore wing Nikola Djogo and sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs are now rising into prominent roles for Notre Dame.
“We’ve got guys that are really good basketball players and they’re going to have opportunities to get on the floor and showcase a little bit,” Farrell said.
Farrell is also eager to see incoming freshman wing D.J. Harvey, Rivals’ No. 48 overall player in the class of 2017 who could compete for a starting job when he gets to campus this summer.
“I’ve heard he’s unbelievable,” Farrell said of the 6-7 Harvey, a four-star prospect. “I’ve only seen him play once. I’m really excited. I saw a couple clips of him. Bright future here looks like.
“What’s special about this place is I’m sure he’s going to love it and I’m sure he’s going to learn something every single year that’s going to help him get better.”