Notre Dame will keep “swinging from the fences” for blue-chip recruits, head coach Mike Brey said.
But as the Irish pursue recruits off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances — and the makings of another NCAA Tournament run this year — Brey is content with bringing in four- and-five year players that develop in his system.
“Every kid’s different, every year’s different,” Brey said. “But for the most part, it’s going to be a four- and a five-year guy that we get and develop and get them to grow old.
“I guess a lot of those guys are the dreaded three stars, and then all of a sudden they go Bonzie Colson or Luke Harangody or Matt Farrell. We’re doing alright.”
Notre Dame is ranked seventh among Power Six conference teams this season in experience, averaging 2.09 years per player. That’s good for 50th nationally. The Irish start two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, and their main reserve is a freshman.
It’s Brey’s most experienced team since the 2010-11 squad averaged 2.45 years (15th), led by seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tyrone Nash. Changing that recipe with one-and-done recruits would alter Brey's plans.
“You couldn’t [stay old],” Brey said. “You couldn’t. The rhythm to this roster we like. The consistency of our program.”
Where Brey is benefiting from the NCAA Tournament exposure is AAU and high school coaches calling him more regularly with ideal prospects for the Irish.
“We have coaches and people calling, ‘He’d be a good fit for you, Mike. I saw what you did with Bonzie Colson, saw what you did with Harangody, saw what you did with Matt Farrell. I got a guy,’” Brey said. “We get a lot of that, and I love that because it’s kind of an endorsement, and some of them are a good fit.”
Notre Dame signed one prospect in November, four-star wing D.J. Harvey from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic. The 6-7 Harvey is the fourth-highest rated player to sign with Notre Dame since the Rivals rankings started in 2002. He’ll join fellow former four-stars T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger on next year’s roster. Notre Dame will lose class of 2013 four-stars Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem to graduation after this season.
“For the most part, let’s face it, they’re recruiting more for fit,” said Corey Evans, a national basketball analyst for Rivals. “They’re always going to get the talent, but they’re not battling Duke, UNC, the blue bloods for guys.
“On the recruiting trail it’s more about the respect that people have for Mike Brey and his staff, it’s somewhat universal within the industry with who they go after and who they get.
“It just shows that Notre Dame is capable of battling some of the better programs in America for guys, but also not getting too far away from what makes them unique.”
In the 2018 class, Notre Dame has focused its efforts on four four-star wing players: Mars (Pa.) High’s Robby Carmody, Champaign (Ill.) Central High’s Tim Finke, Irvington (N.J.) Hudson Catholic’s Luther Muhammad and Milton (Mass.) Academy’s Cormac Ryan.
Evans compared Notre Dame’s recruiting strategy to that of Villanova, which has two or three high-level prospects and fills its roster with upside three-stars. Evans also made a connection with Brey and his time as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, where the Blue Devils were careful handing out scholarship offers.
“He’s very, very selective,” Evans said. “They don’t want to waste a lot of time with guys, and that’s why they really zero in on a couple guys and they go after them pretty hard.”
While the Elite Eights have been useful in terms of exposure, Brey said the high-level recruits are interested in Notre Dame’s track record of putting players in the NBA.
The Irish currently have three players signed by NBA teams: Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton. Prior to that, Notre Dame had just three players drafted between 2001-14.
“The key is guys in the NBA,” Brey said. “We’ve got three guys in the league. For that really high-level kid, the development for the next level has been as powerful or maybe more powerful than Elite Eights and an ACC championship.
“Maybe that sounds a little sad, but it’s true.”
People have taken notice.
“It speaks volumes about the staff there,” Evans said of Notre Dame’s staff, led by longtime assistant Rod Balanis in addition to Ryan Humphrey and Ryan Ayers, both in their first season with the Irish. “Everyone thought Notre Dame was pretty much going to buckle once Jerian Grant and guys like that left, but here they are again.
“It’s pretty impressive, even without NBA prospects on the roster.”
Notre Dame will “never say never” to a potential one-and-done player, Brey said, but the reality is his roster isn’t crafted for a player that could bolt after one season.
The Irish pursued Thon Maker, a five-star center in the class of 2016 who ended up jumping straight to the NBA from high school, but chasing prospects of that caliber has been a rarity under Brey.
Brey likes to tout the underrated prospects that enter his program as three stars and leave as trusted veterans. Colson and Farrell, a pair of juniors now playing key roles for the 21-7 Irish, were both three-star recruits that did not see major minutes early in their careers.
Evans said a four-star prospect is expected to play 15-18 minutes a game as freshmen, Evans said. It is typically a top-75 player nationally — Harvey is ranked 56th in the country.
A three-star designation covers a broad range. A high three-star could be a top-100 player, while some years it’s just a mid-level prospect. High-upside three-stars might need a redshirt season, while those with a lower ceiling can come in and play immediately.
“We’ve had to be good evaluators and projectors of guys,” Brey said. “Our staff has done a really good job and now you can find a guy that’s a fit and you can look and go, ‘If he hangs in with us for two years or a year and a half, he may not play much, but if you hang in there with us, you can develop.’
“That’s the scouting report on us, so we get calls from a lot of coaches, AAU and high school, that say, ‘I have one that can grow with you.’ I’m not getting the calls from the one-and-done guys as much, but I’m getting those other calls.”