John Mooney has been on head coach Mike Brey’s mind the past few days.
Whether the freshman forward sees the floor for Notre Dame on Saturday at first-place North Carolina is still up in the air.
Mooney, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound native of Orlando, Fla., has been on the end of No. 20 Notre Dame’s bench during the team’s 17-6 start. He’s played in just 10 games, playing only garbage-time minutes.
“Coach has always said, ‘Stay at it, be ready,’” Mooney said. “If this is my opportunity, make the most of it. Very exciting.”
The Irish are in need of an offensive spark after back-to-back lackluster efforts against Georgia Tech and Duke. The team’s two worst efficiency games have the 17th-year coach considering his options.
Brey said he’s still mulling a new starting lineup for Saturday, a decision that will be made in the game day shoot-around in Chapel Hill, N.C. That change to the team’s rotation, as well as Mooney’s usage, had the team practicing down in “The Pit” gymnasium rather than the Purcell Pavilion court Thursday, where Brey likes to go when he wants fewer eyes on the team’s practices.
Brey, who said he would “love” to get to Mooney on Saturday, said there are no concerns about inserting the forward into the rotation for a hostile road game at No. 12 North Carolina (20-4).
“You’re at a point where you’ve got to look at some things,” Brey said. “Johnny is older than a freshman in how he handles himself and carries himself if he is thrust in there. And he’s got older guys to help him. Our veteran guys are always good with a young guy.”
Mooney verbally committed to the University of Florida in Sept. 2013, but de-committed on Aug. 13, 2015. He committed to the Irish on Sept. 6, 2015. He averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks per game as a senior at Altamonte Springs (Fla.) Lake Brantley High, and was rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals.
The Florida 8A Player of the Year in 2016 said there’s been no conversation with Brey about his possible uptick in minutes moving forward. Mooney said over the past few practices he’s been getting more time with the team’s first group, a sign he could see the court during games.
“I really wasn’t expected to play a whole lot early on,” Mooney said. “You look at some of the guys that are playing now, it’s a process. If that’s what it’s going to be like this weekend and the rest of the year, that’d be great.”
Should Mooney get more minutes, it would likely mean less action for junior forward Martinas Geben, who has started every game this season, and sophomore wing Matt Ryan.
Mooney said his attention to detail has improved during his freshman season. The stretch forward — who can step away from the basket and hit an outside shot — is usually among the first players on the court for practice, and works out with assistant Ryan Humphrey prior to games.
Mooney's teammates have taken notice of his work ethic.
“He’s doing a good job just being patient and working hard,” senior wing V.J. Beachem said of Mooney. “Everybody has to go through that in their time here, and he’s doing a really good job of it.
“He’s somebody that can really space the floor for us, he’s a really good shooter for his size. Also his physical presence inside can really help us out defensively on the glass and just being a bigger body.”
Junior forward Bonzie Colson had a similar freshman year to what Mooney is going through. Colson, now the ACC’s leader in double-doubles (13), did not see his minutes increase his rookie season until mid-January.
Colson said he likes what Mooney can give the Irish on both ends of the floor.
“The way he practices, he’s ready,” Colson said.