With summer school classes set to begin June 19 (lasting through July 28), the three most visible Notre Dame sports programs took to the college version of the “waiver wire” like never before in its history this month.
The Fighting Irish football team welcomed both Arizona State wide receiver Cameron Smith as a 2017 graduate transfer and former Navy sophomore safety Alohi Gilman, who will have three years of eligibility remaining in 2018-20 after sitting out 2017 per NCAA undergraduate transfer rules.
They will join wide receiver Freddy Canteen, who graduated from the University of Michigan this spring, and like Smith will be eligible on a deep Notre Dame receiving corps this year (as an early graduate, Canteen actually has two more years of college eligibility in 2017 and 2018, similar to former Notre Dame receiver Corey Holmes at Purdue).
Injuries played a huge factor in sidetracking the careers of Canteen and Smith.
In Arizona State’s 55-31 victory versus Notre Dame in 2014, Smith caught four passes for a team high 67 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard scoring strike that put the Sun Devils ahead 31-3. He caught 41 passes for 596 yards and six scores that year, but was sidelined in 2015 with an injury and was limited to 12 catches for 192 yards in the six games he played last year.
Gilman finished with a career high 12 tackles (five solo) in Navy’s 28-27 victory over the Irish last November. A rare 12-game starter for the Midshipmen as a true freshman — or plebe, in Naval terms — he had starts at cornerback, safety and even outside linebacker while finishing second in tackles with 76 (50 solo) and pass breakups (5), and adding two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), one of which he forced
“He plays the style of safety we want in this program,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly of the six-foot, 195-pound defender. “Alohi’s a run-and-hit safety that fits perfectly in the Mike Elko defense.”
Head coach Mike Brey’s program this weekend landed 6-11, 207-pound forward Juwan Durham from Connecticut. The timing is ideal because while sitting out 2017-18, Durham can still practice with the team, develop his physique and learn the system, and then take on a much greater role after current big men Martin Geben and Austin Torres exhaust their eligibility in the upcoming campaign.
Although ACL tears sidelined him his final two seasons in high school in Tampa, Fla., Durham was still ranked the No. 47 recruit in the country and had premier basketball schools such as Kansas and Syracuse after him before signing with four-time national champ UConn.
He played 28 games as a freshman in a limited capacity while easing back from his injuries, and averaged 1.6 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Among his other visits after the transfer were Notre Dame ACC rival Virginia Tech and 2016 national champ Villanova. He will have three years of eligibility remaining, beginning in 2018-19.
Back in his era, Irish basketball coach Digger Phelps (1971-91), and Notre Dame overall, had a philosophical opposition to taking transfers. Phelps for one thought it was unfair to players already on the roster who had made a four-year commitment to the Fighting Irish.
Times change, and back then Notre Dame had recruiting advantages as an independent and with national television coverage it doesn’t possess now. Brey and his staff have benefitted greatly with past transfers such as current assistant coach Ryan Humphrey (Oklahoma), Dan Miller (Maryland), Ben Hansbrough (Mississippi State) and Scott Martin (Purdue). They had also landed other big men such as Dennis Latimore (Arizona) and Garrick Sherman (Michigan State).
Durham also becomes the third consecutive top-50 prospect that Brey and Co., have landed, a rare feat at the program. Incoming freshman 6-7 wing D.J. Harvey was ranked No. 48 in his class, while 6-2 high school senior guard Prentiss Hubb is No. 45. Both are from the Washington D.C. corridor, where many of Notre Dame’s greatest basketball stars played, including Hall of Famers Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley.
Finally, Naismith Hall of Fame inductee Muffet McGraw this year welcomes her first two transfers in her 31 years at Notre Dame.
Earlier this year it was announced that Stanford graduate point guard Lili Thompson would use her final season at Notre Dame in 2017-18 to replace four-year starter Lindsay Allen (now with the WNBA’s New York Liberty), who helped direct Notre Dame to four consecutive ACC regular season and tournament titles, plus two NCAA title games.
A two-time All-Pac 12 selection, Thompson averaged 14.7 points and 3.5 assists per game in 2015-16. This included 11 points, nine assists and no turnovers in a 90-84 upset of No. 1 seed Notre Dame to advance to the Elite 8.
This week McGraw and Co., added 6-4 post player and Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard to its 2017-18 roster. Although she will have to sit out this coming season per NCAA transfer rules, Shepard — a two-time All-Big Ten choice and the No. 3-ranked player overall nationally in 2015 by ESPNHoopgurlz — will have two years of eligibility remaining in 2018-19 and 2019-20 while likely replacing All-American Brianna Turner, who will be a senior this year and is recovering from April ACL surgery.
Shepard was the National Freshman of the Year in 2016 while averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for a Cornhuskers team that finished 18-13. This past year she was second-team All-Big Ten while averaging 18.4 points and 9.7 rebounds under new coach Amy Williams, who debuted with a 7-22 record, the worst in school history.
Shepard announced her intent to transfer at the end of the season and in April took visits to Notre Dame and reigning national champ South Carolina. She had been teammates with Turner and Notre Dame junior guard Marina Mabrey on the 2014 U18 United States National Team that won the gold medal at FIBA Americas championship with a 5-0 record while she averaged double-figure scoring.