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Notre Dame Basketball

Brey heralds Notre Dame signing class, says 'We needed to deliver'

November 10, 2021
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Seven months ago, questions swirled about the future of both Mike Brey and the Notre Dame men's basketball team.

The Fighting Irish had missed the postseason, again. They had flamed out in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, again.

They had never sustained the success that propelled them to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2015-16, nor recovered from the injury to Bonzie Colson that derailed a 2017-18 season that had seen the program scale to No. 5 in the national rankings.

In fact, since Colson's injury the Notre Dame program is a meager 54-57 and has not returned to the NCAA Tournament.

So Wednesday was a significant moment for Brey's Irish basketball program. Three players, all consensus four-star, top-120 national players, signed with Notre Dame to comprise its 2022 class.

The Irish class was viewed as a top-20 national class and landed as high as No. 15.

“I don't know if I would have sat there and said, 'Yeah, we're going to be able to deliver a top-15 class on signing day,'” Brey admitted, “but I felt like if we could restructure, you know, we could really make a move. I've always felt good about the group coming back, the nucleus of kids coming back, our current team that is, that have played, and really liked that we added a man in Paul (Atkinson) and we saw what we felt Blake (Wesley) would give us.

“If we can get things, I use the phrase the third floor (where Brey's offices are inside Rolfs Athletics) straight, then I think we really have a chance. I'm thrilled.”

Guard J.J. Starling, a 6-foot-4-inch New York native who transferred to La Lumiere School (Indiana) after his sophomore season, was tabbed as high as the nation's No. 27 player and represented Brey's highest-ranked signee since 2013.

Ven-Allen Lubin, a 6-8 forward from Orlando Christian Prep, was a top-75 player who selected the Irish this week amongst a field of offers that included Auburn, Florida, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Alabama, among myriad others.

Finally, the first commitment of the trio was 6-9, 265-pound forward Dom Campbell. A Scarborough, Maine, native from New Hampshire's Phillips Exeter Academy, Campbell pledged to the Irish in July.

“I'm pleased with it … now we've got to go win some games,” Brey said. “We were supposed to play, we thought we had Delaware State, friend of mine is the new coach (Stan Waterman), he couldn't do it, his A.D. didn't want him to do it, and then I thought to myself, 'Wednesday is going to be so important, to hell with it. I don't even want to play a game. It's going to be really important how we finish out this class. We'll deal with our games on Saturday.'

“We needed to deliver today with a big win before we get on to trying to earn some bigger wins.”

Brey said 27 years of coaching had helped him find the tools necessary to bounce back from Notre Dame's longest NCAA Tournament drought since 1991-2000.

“Our business is a matter of, you're in it long enough you get put on the map, you get backed up against the wall, how do you come off it?,” Brey said. “How do you swing and fight yourself off it? Maybe that's why I've survived 27 years as a head coach. You're going to have to have bounce-back type of stuff and it started with our recruiting.”

The recruited started with an almost entirely overhauled Irish men's coaching staff; Anthony Solomon and Antoni Wyche were tabbed to spots on the Notre Dame bench alongside the lone holdover, Ryan Humphrey.

On Dom Campbell:

“Let's start with big Dom Campbell. He's kind of one of those wide-body, carve-space guys that you can throw to in the post, he's got a feel for the game. He can turn and make plays. He's working to get himself in better shape. He reminded me of Mike Pegues, who actually was head coach at Louisville (Tuesday) night (while head coach Chris Mack serves a six-game suspension).”

On J.J. Starling:

“J.J. is just a really explosive guard. The area I was so impressed with this summer was his ability to see the floor and pass it. I didn't know he could do all that, that well. I knew he could always score and shoot. He's physically built for it

“What's neat about him, too, is there's a charisma that's infectious and he's really an energy guy with teammates. I think a lot of young players just play and maybe they're a little bit of wet blankets. Not that they're selfish but they can't lift other guys up, emotionally with good energy. He's just got great juice about him. He's so happy when his teammates do something. Court charisma is something I talked to him a lot about through the recruiting, and I think it's something that struck home. He's got a charisma and energy about him; his smile will light the building up.”

On Vin-Allen Lubin:

“Ven, as we watched through summer and saw his first workout September 9, his first day, we got to J.J. at six in the morning, got the plane and got to that Orlando workout day 1. I think his coach (Treig Burke) was (saying), 'Who really wants him?' Halfway through his workout, I said this is (John) Mooney and Bonzi, he's got that kind of development arc. He's a big, face-up forward, can run, shoots it a little bit. Physically, really the whole package is there.”

What Brey & Co. packaged prominently to the trio was an opportunity for instant playing time when they arrive in South Bend. The Irish's current starting five all are seniors in class, though they do have the option of an additional collegiate year – at Notre Dame or elsewhere – due to the COVID-19 waiver, with the exception of Atkinson. The Yale graduate-transfer is in his final year.

“I think all three of those guys saw immediate playing time,” Brey said. “We sold that hard. I know we have these seniors that still have eligibility, and we don't know where that's going to be (on a decision timeline, who stays and who leaves). It's probably going to have to work itself out later in season. We really sold immediate playing time, which I think we're going to have. …

“They're all ready to play as freshmen, and we're going to need them to.”

 
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