Folks, it was just 53 days ago that it was reported that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball program had reached an agreement with then-Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry to be the successor to Mike Brey as head coach.
At the time, the Irish roster had seen significant attrition, with several upperclassmen exhausting eligibility (Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, Marcus Hammond, Trey Wertz), others choosing to move on to other collegiate opportunities to finish their careers (Cormac Ryan, Robby Carmody), and promising underclassmen entering the transfer portal (J.J. Starling, Dom Campbell) or considering doing so (Ven-Allen Lubin). Furthermore, 2⁄3 of the solid 2023 recruiting class Mike Brey signed last fall asked for releases to sign with other schools.
Only Matt Zona, Tony Sanders, J.R. Konieczny, and walk-on Alex Wade were left sitting in the proverbial talent cupboard when Shrewsberry stepped into the role. The picture was bleak, even when you add in the only 2023 signee to stick to his letter of intent, local guard Markus Burton from Mishawaka.
The last 53 days, though, have been pretty fun to see for fans of the downtrodden program — or at least it’s been somewhat of a relief that the Irish will indeed be able to field a full team next season, and there could be long-term hope that the program could become a competitor in the ACC and NCAA Tournament once again.
So, let’s just take a quick moment here in mid-May to review and relish the early achievements of Micah Shrewsberry that have not only stopped the bleeding, but also provided a glimmer of hope that the Irish could be decent in men’s hoops again sooner rather than later.
Introductory Press Conference
Six days after news of his hiring went public, Shrewsberry had his first presser as Irish head coach, held at Purcell Pavilion. It’s important to note, of course, that most new coaches have successful first press conferences and it’s much easier to speak about a bunch of lofty goals with confidence in the beginning than it is to keep delivering those messages as you go and actually deliver the results to back them up.
But even with that in mind, Shrewsberry’s initial press conference was a massive success. The program had been in a rut for 5+ years under Mike Brey, and so just the energy and passion emanating from the new coach and Indianapolis native as he spoke about the job was refreshing and just a tad electric. This didn’t sound like a guy just looking for his next stepping-stone job or someone who took it for better pay or to coach in a better conference or anything of the sort.
Instead, he spoke about being an Indiana native and what it means to come back and coach hoops at such a high level in his home state, and in the city where his head coaching career began (IU South Bend). He spoke about Notre Dame as a university, about the combination of excellence in education and athletics, about the great young men and women who come through ND, etc. And he even spoke quite bluntly about his ultimate goals as coach — which included winning a national championship at Notre Dame.
Is some of that just coach-speak and/or what you have to say as a new coach, considering you can’t exactly take a power-5 job and proclaim you have no intention of competing for titles? Sure.
But considering ND has NEVER won a national title in the NCAA Tournament era, and only made 1 Final Four and a few Elite Eights, just having the ambition and confidence to mention that from the start was fun to hear, and it will be exciting to see if the young coach has what it takes to truly pursue that loftiest of goals in a time where NIL, transfer portal, one-and-dones, etc. make it even harder to build a contender at a football school like Notre Dame.
It was just a press conference, but the new coach passed the test with flying colors and got the fan base actually excited about the future of Irish men’s hoops for the first time since Bonzie Colson was dominating guys with 6 inches on him in the paint.
Hitting the High School Recruiting Trail HARD
Only near the end of these first 53 days on the job for Micah Shrewsberry, within the last few weeks, has he been able to finalize several members of his coaching and administrative staff. And yet almost immediately upon taking the job, he began putting in the work in recruiting to start refilling the ND talent pipeline with young, gifted guys who will fit into his system and into this program.
It was never really in question, but Markus Burton reaffirmed his signing with the Irish and expressed his excitement about playing for Shrewsberry upon his hiring — considering Burton then proceeded to be named Mr. Basketball in Indiana for the 2022-2023 season, that was pretty darn important.
But even more importantly, Shrewsberry decided he wanted to just go ahead and convince ALL of his 2023 signees at Penn State to follow him to the Irish.
He off-handedly mentioned his son Braeden would be joining him at ND during his intro presser (which would get announced officially weeks later), and many thought it could be an easy sell for him to convince 2023 guard Logan Imes — a Zionsville, IN native — to jump ship as well and bring some great shooting to the program. He committed just over a week ago as well.
But the big kahuna here was 4-star big man Carey Booth, a now top-50 player in the class whose father Calvin was a fantastic player at Penn State. That seemed like a harder sell, even when Booth backed off his pledge to the Nittany Lions. At 6’10” and with awesome length, athleticism, and some shooting ability to boot, there would undoubtedly be a number of programs with better recent records of success coming after him.
No matter, Booth signed to play for Shrewsberry at Penn State for a reason, and so Shrewsberry made quick work of re-recruiting him to his new program, earning a commitment from Booth in early May during a slew of commitments that all happened in a matter of days to bolster the Irish roster for the coming season.
Suddenly, the ND class of 2023 went from being outside the Top 75 in the 247sports class rankings to #24 in the country. Add in that Shrewsberry has already earned a commitment from 2024 top-150 guard Cole Certa (a guy Illinois seemed to really want to keep local in their home state), as well as a number of 2024 and 2025 prospects Shrewsberry and his staff have begun putting major energy into recruiting (including top-100 guys like Kon Knueppel, Sir Mohammed, Trent Sisley, etc.), and there’s finally cause for some optimism about the ND men’s hoops team in the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 seasons, especially if some of these top-tier guys buy into Shrewsberry’s program and vision and sign on to play at Purcell Pavilion.
Hitting the Transfer Portal Hard, Too
Of course, in college sports today, you can’t get by with just recruiting high schoolers alone. The transfer portal has become massively important for allowing players the freedom to upgrade their personal situations, and thus has become critical for coaches to use it to find the right fits for players to meet the team’s needs as those kinds of departures happen and/or when a program has a bare cupboard to work from, as the Irish did after Brey stepped down.
So, it was super encouraging to see the number of transfer portal names being mentioned with reported interest/contact/offers from Notre Dame. Just to ensure there are some more experienced players in the rotation for this coming season, it was a necessity for the Irish to dip into the portal, even if they wouldn’t be able to get the Hunter Dickinsons and Caleb Loves of the world, talent-wise.
A natural top target for Shrewsberry was to convince his former player at PSU, Kebba Njie, to opt for ND as his landing spot after entering the portal.
Njie was just a freshman last year (after having played at La Lumiere with J.J. Starling) and only averaged 14 minutes per game, but he played in all 37 of the Nittany Lions’ contests and started 26 of them, offering good size (6’10”, 237 lbs) and athleticism, as well as some solid experience/production, to the Irish frontcourt in 2023-2024. He committed just over a week ago, giving Shrewsberry an important big man body to help out Matt Zona and Carey Booth down low.
Shrewsberry also went out and got Julian Roper II from Northwestern, a junior-to-be guard who again didn’t have flashy stats in 2022-2023, but who was a solid reserve on an NCAA Tourney team and who can bring a poised, veteran presence to the backcourt alongside all the young guns.
The Irish will continue to comb the portal for potential fits, as they have room for a couple more scholarship guys — particularly a veteran point guard, if they can find one.
But even if not, Shrewsberry’s aggression in going after transfers and his ability to land a couple who will be contributors during this first rebuilding season were great things to see happen so fast, and they really set the program up for, at the very least, a season they can build on this coming year and beyond.
Committing to Hiring a Great and Robust Staff
For as much as we all loved Mike Brey for the vast majority of his tenure at the helm of this program, one constant complaint/criticism was around his loyalty to assistant coaches who weren’t seeming to make too huge of a difference at times. He loved hiring former players and/or guys who were very familiar with his program/system, which could be great but also seemed to perpetuate some major flaws, such as a lack of focus on playing defense, trouble consistently developing big men, etc.
So, Micah Shrewsberry hiring, well...basically anyone not from the Brey coaching tree was already going to be a breath of fresh air. But even more exciting is that Shrewsberry went out and hired some guys who seem like young, energetic dudes with experience learning from some really great coaches, including Shrewsberry himself.
The headliner is Kyle Getter, who Shrewsberry went and got from Virginia after he spent 5 years there under Tony Bennett, with 3 of them being their Director of Recruiting/Player Development and the final 2 being an assistant coach.
Virginia has, of course, been one of the best programs in the country over the last decade, and they’ve done it via recruiting talent and playing a style of basketball that could be way more achievable for the Irish than many other approaches would be, focusing on getting smart, tough players who buckle down on defense, rebound, and can shoot a little bit. Getter will be Shrewsberry’s Associate Head Coach.
Having Getter bring all that he learned from Bennett and that program should be huge, and his reputation as a hard-worker on the recruiting trail — along with the championship ring he got at UVA and all the success he can point to there along with his experience as Director of Basketball Operations under Shaka Smart at VCU — will almost certainly pay off over the next couple years in his pitches to top Irish targets.
Along with Getter, Shrewsberry brought assistant Mike Farrelly over from Penn State, where he was a big part of that quick turnaround and successful 2022-2023 season last year. He had stints at Hofstra, Niagara, and Mount Saint Mary’s before that, and played his college ball for Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s.
Furthermore, Shrewsberry has already displayed how serious he is in building out an appropriate support staff for a major basketball program, hiring Tre Whitted as Assistant to the Head Coach and Grady Eifert (yep, Tyler’s brother and former Purdue player) as Development and Recruiting Coordinator.
Both guys worked for Shrewsberry at Penn State, and Whitted also brings experience as a G-League assistant coach and former D-League and Premier Basketball League player. Eifert was a grad assistant under Matt Painter for two years at Purdue, as well.
There have been rumors that Shrewsberry was planning to bring former 247sports national recruiting analyst Brian Snow over from Penn State as Director of Recruiting (he was in the same role at PSU), but nothing official has been announced there yet. He’s also retaining Pat Rogers as Director of Basketball Operations, which will be key in having a staff member with a deeper knowledge of the university, campus, academics, etc.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Folks, this won’t be an easy or super-fast road back to the level of those glorious back-to-back Elite Eight seasons we saw in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. The program was left in a rough state, as it often is when it starts declining and goes through a coaching change.
So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here and act like Micah Shrewsberry is reeling in NBA Lottery picks or about to lead the Irish deep into the NCAA Tourney in Year 1. It will be a pretty massive success if he can get the Irish to .500 or better in his first season, considering what he inherited. That would be a big win.
However, as Mike Brey stepped down, we all agreed that the new coach would need to be a younger, passionate, energetic guy who’s happy to put in more work on the recruiting trail and in the portal, and who’s proven he can find success at a program that might not have the resources or recruiting heft that a blue blood might. This new coach would need to very quickly spin up a coaching/support staff and do some QUICK work to reel in recruits/transfers just to field a roster for the coming season and to set the team up for a chance to compete for a tourney bid in Years 2 and 3.
Shrewsberry has done ALL of that in less than 2 months’ time, stabilizing the program and giving all of us Irish hoops fans something to at least feel somewhat optimistic about for the first time in what seems like FOREVER. I’d say that’s a pretty successful first two months for the new head coach, and it should be fun to see how he keeps things going from here — the Irish have a bit of juice again, finally.
BONUS — AS OF NOW (5/16/23), MY RANDOM GUESS AT THE OPENING GAME LINEUP/ROTATION
SPOILER ALERT: I think it’s gonna be a very non-Brey-esque rotation that uses just about everybody (although depending on who else gets added from the portal, the back of the rotation could see less time if they can find more veteran guys to take starting/heavy rotational roles).
- Markus Burton, G
- Julian Roper II, G
- J.R. Konieczny, G/F
- Carey Booth, F
- Kebba Njie, F
- Matt Zona, F — will see lots of time, might even start over Booth if Booth isn’t ready physically considering how skinny he is
- Logan Imes, G — will see lots of time
- Tony Sanders Jr., F — will see a decent amount of time
- Braeden Shrewsberry, G — will see a decent amount of time
- Alex Wade, G — spot work/garbage time/emergency