Notre Dame forward Paul Atkinson Jr. intends to pursue pro career
Paul Atkinson Jr. plans to be one-and-done at Notre Dame.
The graduate transfer from Yale who played the 2021-22 season with the Irish intends to pursue a professional career in the coming months, a source confirmed with Inside ND Sports. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports first reported Monday morning that Atkinson will make a run at pro basketball regardless of the NCAA’s decision on an extra year of eligibility for him.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Atkinson averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as Notre Dame’s starting forward last season. Atkinson arrived at Notre Dame in 2021 after playing three seasons at Yale. The Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 basketball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which effectively ended Atkinson’s Yale career. The conference stuck by its rule of not allowing graduate students to participate on its teams.
Meanwhile, the NCAA granted all basketball players who played in the 2020-21 season an extra year of eligibility. But because Atkinson didn’t play that season — through no choice of his own — that extra eligibility wasn’t guaranteed to him.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey told reporters last month that it seemed like the NCAA and Ivy League were working together to not make that extra eligibility availability to players from the conference.
"I can't confirm this, but it has to be this,” Brey said. “The Ivy League and the NCAA are in cahoots as they should be to protect their current student-athletes. If all of a sudden you say those Ivy League kids get a sixth year and I'm a sophomore at Penn, I could go to Villanova and not only get a fifth, but a sixth. I get that.”
"That's why I think it's crickets when I try to reach out to the Ivy League, NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches), or the NCAA. But why not Paul's class? They lost their senior year.”
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has also been vocal about the Ivy League players being granted the extra year. His son Jimmy played last season at Syracuse as a graduate transfer from Cornell.
“Paul will have a master's degree,” Brey said last month, “but for the next month, I'd really like to see if we can get to a place where there's some discussion on it and see where we're at. We may run right into a brick wall and they may say this is non-negotiable. Leave us alone. We're going to keep trying.”
The obstacle Atkinson, an All-ACC honorable mention, will attempt to run through instead will be the NBA’s pre-draft process. An invitation to the annual Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, which will be held April 13-16, would be a good start. The tournament includes 64 of the best college seniors in a showcase for NBA personnel. The NBA Draft Combine (May 16-22) and NBA Draft (June 23) will be the next steps of the process.
Atkinson’s chances of being drafted appear to be slim. ESPN doesn’t rank him among the top 21 available power forwards in the 2022 draft class or the top 14 centers. Atkinson doesn’t have elite size for a traditional post player in the NBA, and he doesn’t stretch the floor as a shooter to compensate for that. Atkinson missed his only two 3-point attempts last season. His professional career will likely start in the NBA’s G League or overseas.
Atkinson, the 2019-20 Ivy League Player of the Year, previously entered his name as an early entrant for the 2020 NBA Draft while maintaining his eligibility. He later returned to Yale only for his senior season to be canceled. Atkinson entered the transfer portal in Nov. 2020 and announced a commitment to Notre Dame on Jan. 3, 2021.
Notre Dame, which finished the season with a 24-11 record, a second-place finish in the ACC’s regular season and a 59-53 loss to Texas Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as an 11th seed, will be awaiting more stay-or-go decisions from its 2021-22 roster. Beyond Atkinson, the other six seniors — guards Dane Goodwin, Cormac Ryan, Prentiss Hubb, Trey Wertz and Robby Carmody and forward Nate Laszewski — still have NCAA eligibility remaining. It seems unlikely that all six will return.
Freshman Blake Wesley, who has been projected as a first-round pick by some draft analysts, could also choose to chase an NBA career following his breakout season as Notre Dame’s leading scorer (14.4 ppg).
The Irish should be looking to the transfer portal for some post reinforcements. ESPN's Dick Vitale reported that Notre Dame is interested in Wright State forward Grant Basile. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Basile averaged 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season for the Raiders, who won a First Four game in this year's NCAA Tournament as a 16th seed out of the Horizon League.
• Talk with Notre Dame fans on The Insider Lounge.
• Like us on Facebook: Inside ND Sports
• Follow us on Instagram: @insideNDsports