Fighting Irish basketball fans could be forgiven if they spent the last 2-plus weeks feeling a little nervous. When V.J. Beachem elected to dip his toes in the NBA draft pool, a flurry of emotions emerged in the fan base. In some corners, it stirred memories of Carleton Scott, a long, lean swing man with a nice stroke who left Notre Dame eligibility on the table to try to make his living playing pro ball. Some rightfully worried that an early departure by the Fort Wayne native would take with him the majority of the scoring potential for the 2016-17 squad. After Beachem's superlative performance in the NCAA tournament, and the successive departures of Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from consecutive Elite Eight runs, observers of the Irish program were obviously concerned about a big step backwards without continued development and contribution by V.J.
This is the first year of a new system allowing NCAA basketball athletes to announce an intention to test the NBA draft waters. So long as they do not sign an agent, players with NCAA eligibility remaining can attend the pre-draft combine in Chicago in addition to working out for one professional team, and still return to school, so long as they withdraw from the draft by 5/25. Thankfully, for Irish basketball supporters, Beachem decided to end the anguish for Irish fans a little earlier than the 25th.
For a guy like Demetrius Jackson, this was a mere formality. As a lock first round selection, DJ will be signing a multi-year guaranteed deal on the NBA rookie scale. Rather than preserving a path back in to Mike Brey's program, DJ hired an agent and set about the work of hiring professionals to help prepare him for the pre-draft process. Expect DJ to maximize his measurables in any way possible in the run-up to Chicago. It is just smart business and a wise investment.
Beachem, however was not a lock for the first round, or the second for that matter. While a second round selection is a great affirmation of a player, it comes with few guarantees. Pat Connaughton was able to turn his second round selection with Portland into a guaranteed deal, and second round selection Draymond Green probably won't be suffering too many financial worries in his life, but it isn't a straight path to fiscal freedom.
Beachem's shooting and athleticism were on full display this March, so this test of the waters was nothing but smart for the senior-to-be. If he unearthed a team looking to draft on potential, Beachem has loads of it and might have found a fit. Unfortunately for V.J. he didn't find that fit. Different sources put the combine list between 62 and 70 total players, and Beachem was not among the invited athletes. Familiar names from recent Irish opponents include Ron Baker, Cat Barber, Malik Beasley, Michael Gbinije, A.J. Hammond, Nigel Hayes, Brandon Ingram, Justin Jackson, Caris LeVert, Chinanu Onuaku, Marcus Paige, Malachi Richardson, Jarrod Uthoff, Denzel Valentine, and Troy Williams. Of course, the'll be joined by our own Demetrius Jackson. The alternate list published by ESPN's Jeff Goodman also included Jaron Blossomgame, Yogi Ferrell, Sheldon McClellan and Fred VanVleet. Interestingly, DraftExpress.com had Beachem as their 60th overall prospect, just below Ferrell and Barber and well ahead of teammate Zach Auguste.
Updated NBA combine invite list now up to 62. Still a working list. About 70 or so have been invited by NBA. pic.twitter.com/dH4PnfkYQk— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) May 1, 2016
If V.J. were to find that magical match with an NBA squad, it would have required someone seeing his effortless elevation and long 6'8" frame as a base to build on. In today's space and pace NBA, Beachem's fluid and flawless shooting stroke makes him the perfect guy to guard several positions while stretching defenses. Beachem's .444 shooting from behind the arc this season was 35th in the nation. Not a bad time to see just how much NBA love you can generate. V.J.'s best bet was a franchise looking to play a little "me too" with the defending champion Warriors. Harrison Barnes was a much more highly touted recruit out of Iowa in 2009 when he committed to UNC. Of course, Barnes had a far larger splash in his freshman year at Chapel Hill than Beachem has been able to achieve in South Bend, but physically the two men are very similar. Beachem is actually a better college shooter than Barnes' career numbers. If a team was looking for a guy who could develop into the flexible defender and floor-stretching wing Steve Kerr uses to great effect, Beachem could be an attractive prospect.
While there is some history of Irish players taking their NBA feedback a little too seriously in their final campaign, I don't foresee this as a big issue. The things the league wants to see from Beachem are the exact same things we fans, and his coaches have been begging for. V.J. needs to be consistently aggressive in hunting his shot and taking the ball to the rim. He needs to step up his defensive game several notches and be willing and able to defend inside and out. This isn't like an undersized post guy jacking 3's, we want VJ doing these things. It will undoubtedly help his squad.
This is good news Irish fans. Welcome back V.J.