Notre Dame - winners of five of their last six and a total of 20 games for the seventh straight season - will lose Jack Cooley and Scott Martin after the 2012-13 season. While several big men are now making a significant contribution to the cause, the Irish needed an infusion of talent on the perimeter and in the backcourt.
The signing of the four-man class of point guard Demetrius Jackson, small forward V.J. Beachem, shooting guard Steve Vasturia, and power forward Austin Torres last fall ranked as the 11th best recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com.
As the Irish prepared for a road swing through Providence Saturday and Pittsburgh Monday, Irish Illustrated caught up with assistant coach Anthony Solomon, who teamed with head coach Mike Brey and fellow assistants Martin Ingelsby and Rod Balanis to land this class.
It’s a class that the insiders at Notre Dame are very excited about.
“The group as a whole, we’re ecstatic about,” Solomon said. “Rankings are one thing, and it’s been rated very high nationally. But most importantly, you try to fulfill your needs, and this group is a talented perimeter group. I think it upgrades our overall perimeter talent base. It improves our overall depth, and it sets us on really solid ground for years to come in terms of perimeter players for Notre Dame basketball.
“With the level of basketball we’re playing, the talent, the overall depth, the good people, and the really top-notch student-athletes we’ve recruited, we couldn’t be more excited with this overall group.”
Here are Solomon’s comments on the four incoming players, beginning with local star Jackson, who was named the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Team Thursday.
Demetrius Jackson (6-1, 185) - Mishawaka (Marian), Ind.
“Explosive, dynamic little guard in terms of being able to get places and do things. We certainly have seen him a lot of him over the last four years, and he’s really grown and has gotten an understanding of how to play the guard position.
“When we saw him as a freshman, we saw the athleticism and the explosiveness. The one area that we wanted to see him develop was the understanding of playing the guard position, and D.J. has done that. He’s grown, and that’s what has made us really love him and allowed him to earn the respect he’s gotten on the national level.
“Sometimes he’s been unselfish to a fault, but you know what? That’s a great thing for people to say about you. He’s almost too unselfish. That’s what you want. I think he’s a very caring young man. But between the lines, he has an edge about him. There’s a competitive side to him. He enjoys making the extra pass, driving into the lane and kicking it to his teammates.
“Sometimes he’s had to fight understanding that, ‘Maybe I had an open shot,’ because he’s capable of getting to places on the basketball floor very effectively with his strength. He’s not a frail kid coming in as a freshman in college. He’s pretty well put together right now.
“When he chose Notre Dame, all the kids at his high school wanted to wear Notre Dame T-shirts or wear green. That’s respect. When your peers, not just his teammates, but the people at the school want to support you that way, that says a lot about him as the individual.”
V.J. Beachem (6-6, 180) - New Haven (New Haven), Ind.
“We’re really excited about V.J. He’s a young man that we’ve seen play a lot over the last three-and-a-half years. Like (Cameron) Biedscheid, he’s a wing guy that’s 6-foot-7 in length and can shoot the ball up and over defenders.
“He’s a very skilled, long wing player. The kid really has been drilled a lot throughout his life. He can shoot the ball. He has good range. He certainly has a feel for how to play the game with and without the basketball. He keeps it very simple. He’s got a great pace about him, and you don’t see that a lot with young basketball players today.
“V.J. has a chance to be a very good player. The thing right now is letting his body continue to develop in terms of strength, and that will come with time. But in terms of playing the game offensively, he’s fine. Defensively, he’s going to grow and continue to develop in that area. His length on the perimeter can be real effective for his team as well as himself as an individual defender.
“There is probably a Ryan Ayers-type game in him. That type of length, maybe even a little longer. His body is probably not as developed as Ryan’s was coming in. But in terms of skill set, there are some comparisons, although he’s probably a better ball handler than Ryan was at this stage.”
Steve Vasturia (6-5, 190) - Philadelphia (St. Joseph’s), Pa.
“He really grew on us very quickly when we first saw him. He’s got good size for a guard, and he’s really a combo guard. He can play multiple perimeter positions. He’s got good ball skills, and he knows how to create space when the ball is in his hands against quicker, stronger players. He can shoot the basketball.
“In terms of his feel and understanding of the game, there are some similarities of being around the game and knowing how to play at a different pace that is similar to V.J.
“Chris Quinn, but he’s bigger than Chris. I always felt like Chris Quinn was ball quick. Steve has that same ball quickness. He has a shifty way about him. Sometimes you’ll think he’s not the quickest, but he gets places because he has ball quickness. He knows where to go. He realizes angles well and he’s got good size. He’s going to continue to grow with the college game. He’s part of that group that we feel can play and do the things the way we like to play in our program.
“He and V.J. are both in the mold of guys who have watched us a lot and understand and see how we play. They’ll be ready to have a good feel and fit in well with our style of play.”
Austin Torres (6-6, 200) - Mishawaka (Penn), Ind.
“You’ve heard Coach Brey talk about seeing the kid over the last three years, and then especially last summer when we saw Austin playing with Demetrius. So while Coach Brey was watching Demetrius, he continued to see this 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 athletic forward that was really blending in well with Demetrius. He was rebounding very well.
“We think he has a chance to be a multi-position defender for us, and he’s going to continue to develop his overall basketball skills on the offensive end of the floor. That’s an area that he understands he needs to improve upon, and that will come over time.
“But in terms of his overall athleticism, his bounce, the type of individual he is, we like him, and he knows Notre Dame. He’s been coming to games with his family. His mom is a Notre Dame grad. So we’re excited to see what he can become.
“He’s bigger than you think. He plays bigger than what he is, and he’s still growing. It helped him playing with a lot of good players on that travel team. He had to compete on a day-in, day-out basis because they were playing against some other good players, and we were able to see him get out there and really compete.
“He gets off the floor really quickly. We think he can move his feet and defend and get the ball off that backboard. On the offensive end, he’s got to continue to hone in on his skills, and that will happen over time.”