Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Summer Update… more Starling please
With just five more Saturdays without football, everyone is getting anxious for the college football season. There is a lot of promise and intrigue surrounding the Irish and everyone is dying to take a look at this team. But they’re not the only Irish team we should be happy about. Notre Dame Men’s Basketball’s final summer practice was opened to the media on Tuesday. We got a pretty good look at some highlights from the practice itself and some statements from Mike Brey, Nate Laszewski and star rookie JJ Starling.
JJ Starling (and freshman)
Let’s start with what causes a lot of excitement and intrigue. Blake Wesley was able to become the first Irish player to be drafted since Demetrius Jackson in 2016 and he was one of a kind. The hype around being able to reconnect with the highest rated rookie Notre Dame has ever had in JJ Starling is pretty high. From what we could hear and see on Tuesday, it is not unjustified. What stands out is his basketball IQ and the smoothness of his game. While he’s not as pure an athlete as Wesley, his decision making more than makes up for it. Taking your man to the hoop (making him look effortless), flattening an open man, or pulling up, all look decisive and deliberate. This will allow him not only to make games for himself but also to improve the players around him. This was reflected in his interview where he comes across as calm, collected and loose. He mentioned adapting to college life not just off the pitch but on the pitch with the speed of the players and the game. What stood out to me was his enjoyment of talking about his game. would rather take a shot at a teammate than score. I like to score who doesn’t, but at the same time I like to offer a basket or an open look to my teammates, ”he said with a smile when asked if coach Brey realizes how well he could see the ground. He also flashed a delighted smile when someone mentioned Coach Brey and Laszewski said he was easy to play with. His love of the game (his game) oozes out while answering questions. It doesn’t sound arrogant or arrogant. He comes across as someone who loves to play the game. Whether it’s doing things himself or involving his team, he loves to go out and play with his team.
After all that, I was ecstatic, and that’s before I mention one of the other freshmen – 4-star Ven-Allen Lubin and 3-star Dom Campbell. Lubin was another great addition to the team and his presence is felt. When you see him and watch him play, you think about the physique. He looks every bit 6ft 2in 220lbs and plays like that too. He stood out on the boards and even knocked down a three. Mike Brey also spoke about his mental maturity and the effort he puts in. While these are just brief glimpses of the squad, things are looking up for the young Irish and their impact on the squad this winter.
Return of talent
Although we weren’t able to keep Wesley, there are still plenty of players coming back for Notre Dame this year. The Irish have six senior graduates, including key players like Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski and Cormac Ryan. Having them back will be huge in combination with the young talent that has been acquired. But after the loss of Wesley, Hubb and Atkinson, they will need to step up to lead this team. This is evident in Coach Brey’s approach to Laszewski. They both mentioned working on his aggression. Something if you were tuned in to the last month of the season last year, you would have noticed flashes. It was the highest number of placement attempts last year, which should increase significantly this year. They both said he was more decisive in shot selection, while using his size underneath. Nate made an impression on JJ Starling who said “He can do anything.” He can shoot for you. It can define screens. He can ride.”, and he’s right. When Nate is on his game, he is very talented. If he and the top three seniors can ramp up, we envision a very well-built squad.
Quick notes and final thoughts.
Look for the Irish to get some good production from junior Matt Zona. He and Lubin will be watched to replace the production under the net left by Paul Atkinson. We also didn’t see much of Niagara transfer Marcus Hammond. His Niagara production is proof enough for me for now and Brey mentioned his maturity and experience. “He’s 22 and has played 100 college games,” Brey said.
It’s only July, we’ve only had a brief glimpse behind the curtain, and there’s plenty of time between now and November. From what I’ve gathered and feedback from other fans and writers, there’s a quiet confidence. I think we can see this team has the pieces, but we know the tournament drought we just broke and all the disappointment that comes with it. Putting that aside, I think there’s every reason to be excited about Irish basketball in 2022-23. I think this team is going to be better than last year. And that my friends is a “way too soon prediction”.
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