Coming off one of the best seasons in program history, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish lose a historically great two-man class in Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. That said, the future of the program has seldom looked brighter, as the Irish return an excellent core that played an integral role in their ACC Championship run and berth in the Elite Eight and add an exciting trio of prospects from their incoming recruiting class.
|Notre Dame Scholarship Chart & Eligibility (2015-2016)
Class of 2015 update
The trio has had an accomplished senior season, starting with the sharpshooting Matt Ryan. Ryan won the state of New York's Mr. Basketball despite, according to him, not yet recovering to 100% following hip surgery last year. He averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds a game and led his team to the state's semifinals before losing a heartbreaker to the eventual state champs.
Ryan was also selected to the Jordan Brand regional game, an event featuring many of the best prospects from the northeast, where he scored 15 points. He fared even better in the Kentucky Derby Basketball Classic in Louisville, where he scored 12 points in the actual game on 4 of 6 shooting on top of winning the event's three-point contest and 2-on-2 tournament with Auburn signee Danjel Purifoy. He was selected to play in the upcoming Capital Classic game featuring many of the country's top players, including future Irish teammate Rex Pflueger.
Pflueger had himself a great senior year as well. Out from under former teammate and Arizona Wildcat Stanley Johnson's shadow, scouts wanted to see what Pflueger was capable of in a leading role, particularly offensively. He answered the call and then some, leading Mater Dei to a heartbreaking (and controversial) state championship game overtime loss to 5 star California commit Ivan Rabb's Bishop O'Dowd squad. He has been featured in plenty of local and national dunk contests and was one of 19 players named by Marc Spears as Class of 2015 players that NBA scouts are watching.
Like Ryan, Elijah Burns was selected to the Jordan Brand regional game but had to sit out recovering from an ankle injury. Burns helped lead his Blair Academy prep school (which has produced the likes of Luol Deng in the past) to their state finals. Burns is certainly the prospect in his class that is most under-the-radar, but Notre Dame assistant Anthony Solomon likens him to former Irish forward Carleton Scott, who held a similarly low profile before coming to South Bend.
Looking ahead to the Class of 2016
After next season, forwards Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett graduate, leaving some holes in the frontcourt depth for the Irish. Mike Brey has to fill those gaps while also finding reinforcements for his backcourt, particularly with Demetrius Jackson being projected by many to be a lottery pick in next year's NBA draft. Brey is also likely searching the transfer market for a potential fit and will have 2-4 scholarships to hand out for this class.
In April, fresh off the end of the NCAA Tournament, the recruiting season really ramps up for college coaches. The entire Irish staff has already been active at various AAU events and will continue to be through August. In the next couple of months, the recruiting board will really begin to take shape for the Irish, likely focusing in on only a few of these names and perhaps a couple new ones. With that, here is an early look at some of the players most likely to take center stage for Notre Dame over the summer.
|10 Names to Watch for 2016
|.995||SF Tyus Battle*
|.945||C Barret Benson
|.928||SG Vijay Blackmon
|NR||PF AJ Brodeur*||MA||6-8/195||Mild|
|.935||C Joey Brunk||IN||6-10/215||Mild|
|.979||G T.J. Gibbs*
|NR||SG Kevin Huerter
|.988||C Isaac Humphries
|.867||PG Justice Kithcart
|.906||PG C.J. Walker
*Players with asterisks reportedly have an offer from Notre Dame
Off the board are players like Austin Davis (Michigan) and Chris Lewis (Harvard), both of whom visited South Bend and who Notre Dame appeared to have a very good chance at landing. Lewis, in particular, hurt, as he was reportedly the top player on the staff's board at the time and went in a surprising direction in going to the Ivy League with plenty of high major offers.
The rest of this board has changed quite a bit over the last few months, with the staff seemingly not focused on many of the names from earlier and actually largely focused on just a few names above.
The top player on the board has to be Temple (T.J.) Gibbs, who plays at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. He is a combo guard and considered a lights-out shooter. The younger brother of former Pittsburgh star Ashton Gibbs and current Seton Hall guard Sterling Gibbs, the youngest Gibbs has seen his recruitment explode over the last year.
Gibbs has plans set to visit Notre Dame next weekend after having just visited Oklahoma this past weekend and UConn a couple weeks ago. He solidified those plans with Mike Brey personally when Brey had an in-home visit with the Gibbs this past Tuesday. Oklahoma and UConn seem to be the toughest competition right now, with the new staff at St. John's seemingly making him a priority and likely to be a threat moving forward. Many expect Gibbs to receive some more attention and offers over the summer in the many showcase AAU events that will have essentially every coach in the country watching.
The biggest name on the board is Tyus Battle, the five-star wing player also from New Jersey. Notre Dame sits in his top eight, a real testament to the effort Brey has put in recent months. It seems as though Battle appreciates what Notre Dame has to offer, including the chance to step in and be the next Jerian Grant in this offense, but until he schedules a visit, it is hard to see this going Notre Dame's way. Battle appears to be all Duke at this point, with maybe Louisville or Syracuse sitting there as a potential spoiler.
Kevin Huerter is a shooting guard from New York who has come out of nowhere in just the past couple weeks with some strong performances at high-profile events. He went from almost no offers to interest and offers from B1G, B12, Big East and ACC programs in no time. There is a connection to Iowa that may be tough to beat, but he seems to be legitimately interested in the Irish in interviews if the interest from Brey and staff turns up this summer.
Massachusetts forward AJ Brodeur received his Notre Dame offer in December, but other than Boston College, does not have any other high major offers. He visited campus last summer with a few of his D1-level teammates, including Northwestern signee Aaron Falzon and Stanford signee Josh Sharma. Not much has materialized since the offer, but Notre Dame is the unanimous crystal ball favorite on 247.
Indiana players Vijay Blackmon and Joey Brunk have been to South Bend on multiple occasions for visits, but neither has earned an offer quite yet. Both are heavily recruited, especially by some local Big Ten teams, so Notre Dame is going to have to make a decision in the next couple of months if they are really going to recruit these two players that they stand a real shot with but may not rate at the top of their board.
Illinois center Barret Benson has visited campus before, and the staff just saw Benson play at a recent AAU event. He has plenty of Big Ten and Big XII offers already, but nothing yet from the Irish, which may need to change sooner rather than later.
Isaac Humphries is from Australia and now plays for La Lumiere in LaPorte, Indiana, which Irish fans may recognize from the recruitment of Illinois signee Jalen Coleman. Brey has seen Humphries on multiple occasions, and Humphries has visited campus as well. The Irish seem to have a legitimate shot here, but they are going up against pretty much everyone for the seven-foot Aussie.
Finally, point guards Justice Kithcart and C.J. Walker (a recent Purdue decommit), have earned some interest from the Irish coaching staff, but not much else at this point. Brey is undoubtedly keeping his options open for the time being, but until Gibbs makes or at least leans toward a decision, it is hard to see him move on any other point guard recruits.
I still think it is too early to have a realistic sense of how this class will end up, both in numbers and the specific players likely to make it up. That said, Mike Brey has personally done some major work with Gibbs in just the last couple of months, and he is likely the top player on Notre Dame's board for this class. Many national and local guys think the Irish have the lead here, but he will be a showcase player in the coming months and could very well attract offers from the bluebloods. Can the Irish fend off those potential new offers over the summer as well as current competition like Oklahoma and Connecticut? That will, in my mind, be the biggest storyline of this class.
Notre Dame should also be in great shape for Brodeur, as they easily rate as the forward's best offer. Northwestern is likely to be a top competitor here, as one of their signees from last class is Brodeur's former teammate and they have shown interest. Will the Wildcats or any other high-major outside of BC offer, and can the Irish snag him anyway? At any rate, I think these two are, as things stand now, the most likely future commits.
My way too early prediction for the 2016 class: AJ Brodeur, T.J. Gibbs