Notre Dame Fighting Irish mens' basketball lands four-star guard J.J. Starling and gets a big recruiting boost
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Notre Dame lands four-star PG J.J. Starling and gets a big recruiting boost

No matter how many swings came up empty, Notre Dame kept stepping to the plate with La Porte (Ind.) La Lumiere School prospects. The perennial nationally ranked prep school located just 25 miles west of South Bend has a roster of Division I prospects every season.

The proximity is enticing for Notre Dame. So is the talent. Even if the Irish’s prior pursuits of several La Lumiere five-star and top-100 recruits ultimately were not fruitful. One of them was bound to be, they thought. One day.

That day has arrived.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball guard commitment J.J. Starling
Starling is the highest-rated recruit to choose Notre Dame since 2013. (Garrett Ellwood/USA Basketball)

Four-star La Lumiere guard J.J. Starling announced his commitment to Notre Dame Tuesday, choosing the Irish over Duke, Syracuse, Stanford and Northwestern. He’s the second member of Notre Dame’s 2022 class, joining four-star Phillips Exeter Academy (N.H.) forward Dom Campbell.

The 6-3, 170-pound Starling is the No. 8 point guard and No. 40 overall player in the 2022 cycle. He’s the highest-ranked recruit to commit to Notre Dame since Demetrius Jackson in 2013. With Starling and Campbell (No. 96 overall), Notre Dame has a pair of top-100 players in the same class for the first time since 2018.

In recruiting Starling, the Irish took another mighty swing on a La Lumiere recruit that one source described as “all in.” They didn’t host any other guard recruits on official visits. They had Starling on campus for an official visit Sept. 3-5, which began with head coach Mike Brey picking him up from La Lumiere in a Ferrari.

It was a gamble to push all the chips to the center of the table. But in the end, a winning bet.

Brey's efforts in particular made a difference.

“What really stood out was Coach Brey," Starling said at his announcement. “I found myself comfortable around him. That’s what you want.

"He’s telling jokes, always laughing, always has a smile on his face. That’s how I am, too.”

Notre Dame identified Starling as one of its priorities early in his high school career. It offered him in June 2020, before he transferred to La Lumiere from Baldwinsville (N.Y.) Baker High School in upstate New York.

Brey reached out to Starling on June 15, 2020, the first day coaches could directly contact 2022 recruits. Notre Dame watched Starling play on the EYBL AAU circuit in person several times this summer and sent the entire staff to see him on the first day of the fall open recruiting period.

Starling switched high schools in July 2020, meaning Notre Dame would have to break its trend of being an also-ran with La Lumiere recruits and likely beat out a heavyweight to land him.

The Irish’s most recent foray into the nearby prep powerhouse was in 2018 with five-star center Isaiah Stewart, who took an unofficial visit to Notre Dame but didn’t include the Irish in his top six. He eventually chose Washington. Notre Dame was a finalist for 2017 five-star center Jaren Jackson Jr., who chose Michigan State. It hosted La Lumiere four-star 2016 center James Banks III in 2015, but he later committed to Texas.

Before Starling, the Irish’s best chance at landing a La Lumiere player might have been Jalen Coleman-Lands, a four-star guard in the 2015 class who Notre Dame offered as a high school freshman. Coleman-Lands, a native of Indianapolis, took multiple unofficial visits to Notre Dame and officially visited in 2014.

With Starling in the fold, Notre Dame will try to fill out the class with four-star Orlando Christian Prep (Fla.) forward Ven-Allen Lubin, who took an official visit to South Bend Oct. 8-10. The 6-7, 205-pound Lubin is the No. 63 player in the 2022 class and the No. 8 power forward.

Starling averaged 14.9 points and 1.9 assists per game at La Lumiere last season.

Notre Dame’s 2022 class of newcomers could go well beyond three. It could also top out at three or four. The exact number will be determined by how many seniors come back next season to use the unexpected opportunity the NCAA awarded them last fall.

“Who’s coming back? I have no idea,” Brey said before Notre Dame’s first preseason practice. “My assistants go, ‘How many scholarships do we have?’ I have no idea, but let’s sign a couple guys and I’ll figure that out on the back end.”

The Irish have seven players who are seniors or graduate students academically, and all of them except Yale graduate transfer forward Paul Atkinson Jr. have eligibility beyond this season — thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 blanket waiver that gave all 2020-21 college basketball players an extra year.

Guard Prentiss Hubb, guard Dane Goodwin and forward Nate Laszewski were set to exhaust their eligibility in 2021-22 before the NCAA passed the waiver.

Senior guards Robby Carmody, Cormac Ryan and Trey Wertz all had eligibility for 2022-23 before the waiver. Carmody redshirted due to injury, Ryan sat out 2019-20 after transferring from Stanford. Wertz was set to redshirt after coming over from Santa Clara until the NCAA allowed all transfers to play immediately last season.

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