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Notre Dame & The NBA Draft

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Pat Connaughton helped Milwaukee advance to the Eastern Conference finals this spring.
Pat Connaughton helped Milwaukee advance to the Eastern Conference finals this spring. (

Former legendary comedian/actor Bob Hope noted that Oscars Night in his home was known as “passover.”

For the Notre Dame men’s basketball program, it’s somewhat the same when it comes to the NBA Draft, when it will be held Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. While it will be a coronation of sorts for Zion Williamson and Duke teammates, it will once again reflect the different shopping aisle for the Fighting Irish when it comes to recruiting the crème de la crème in the sport. With only two rounds with 30 players apiece selected, a mere total of 60 prospects will hear their names called.

Consider that 233 players (175 in college and 58 international) submitted their names for draft evaluation this spring alone, among them current Notre Dame senior guard T.J. Gibbs, who then met the May 29 deadline of taking his name out from the 2019 draft.

The recruiting landscape has changed dramatically when you consider that the 1981 Notre Dame starting five all were basically first-round picks: Forwards Orlando Woolridge and Kelly Tripucka were taken with the No. 6 and 12 picks in the 1981 draft, while guard/wing Tracy Jackson was No. 25 that same year (second round back then, but first round today). Point guard John Paxson was the No. 19 choice overall in 1983, while freshman center Joe Kleine — who would transfer to Arkansas after the season — was the No. 6 pick in 1985.

That was an era when ESPN was in its infancy, even the greatest of players such as Michael Jordan stayed at least three years in college, the NBA Draft had 10 rounds and basketball independence at Notre Dame was an asset.

Today, a former Fighting Irish player in the NBA is much more rare, and often evidence of overachievement. Wing Pat Connaughton was a valued contributor this season to the Milwaukee Bucks advancing to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the champion Toronto Raptors. Connaughton averaged 6.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game off the bench during the regular season and provided excellent complementary skills in the playoffs.

At Orlando, Jerian Grant averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 assists in his 60 game appearances. Guard Demetrius Jackson had a two-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers and the G-League Delaware 87ers, appearing briefly in six games with Philadelphia.

Overall, here is a cursory summary by the numbers of Notre Dame and the NBA.

3 Times two Notre Dame basketball players were selected in the first round in the same year. It occurred during the golden age of the program’s history in the post-World War II era from 1968-81: In 1971 it was Austin Carr (No. 1 overall pick) and Collis Jones (No. 17); in 1974 John Shumate (4) and Gary Brokaw (18); and in 1981 Woolridge (6) and Tripucka (12).

6 Notre Dame players drafted during head coach Mike Brey’s 19 seasons, a main reason why he has become esteemed while keeping the Irish consistently among the top five teams in the powerful Big East from 2000-13 and ACC (2013-19), this past season notwithstanding. The sextet is comprised of Troy Murphy (2001), current Irish assistant Ryan Humphrey (2002), Luke Harangody (2010), Grant (2015), Connaughton (2015) and Jackson (2016).

This does not include the six-year NBA career of former Irish guard Chris Quinn (2002-06), who was not drafted. He is currently an assistant with the Miami Heat, where he played three seasons. Guard Matt Carroll (1999-03) also played in the NBA nine seasons despite not getting drafted.

8 Years between the time a Notre Dame player was drafted from 2002 (Humphrey) to 2010 (Harangody), the longest drought in the school’s 70-year history in the draft. The previous lengthiest was the six years from 1959 (Tom Hawkins, No. 3 overall pick) to 1965 (Ron Reed, No. 20), who would be a pitcher in Major League Baseball 19 years from 1966-84.

14 Fighting Irish alumni who played a minimum of 10 years in the NBA, with Naismith Hall of Fame member Adrian Dantley’s 15 seasons (1976-91) the longest, or one more than fifth-round pick Bill Laimbeer’s 14. The most recent to achieve the feat was Troy Murphy (2001-12).

27 Years between the time a Notre Dame guard was selected in the first round: David Rivers in 1988, and then Grant in 2015. In fact, the only other guard selected in between was Elmer Bennett in the second round of the 1992 NBA Draft.


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