As the basketball season gains momentum, I find myself reminiscing about the remarkable players who once graced the courts of Notre Dame. In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I’m excited to take a trip down memory lane in this week’s blog post. Join me as I revisit an insightful interview I had the privilege of conducting with Torrian Jones, a standout player from the Notre Dame Basketball team, graduating with the class of 2004.
The Shaper of Men
Oftentimes, people who move around during their childhood years have one particular place that they relate to, or call home. This was the case for former Notre Dame basketball player Torrian Jones, who may have had several stops along the way in his childhood, but will always call Pennsylvania home. What, you ask, could have drawn Torrian away from his tight knit family and home in Philadelphia, PA, to play college basketball at the University of Notre Dame, his new “home under the dome?” This is Torrian Jones’s story.
“I was originally born in New Bern, NC. My mom’s side of the family is from New Bern, and my dad’s side of the family is from Trenton, NJ. My parents met at Fayetteville State College in Fayetteville, NC and we lived there until I was six years old. When I was six years old we moved to Washington D.C. briefly, and from there we moved to Morrisville, PA, with my dad’s job (Morrisville is 25 minutes from downtown Philadelphia). This is where I spent the majority of my youth. I definitely associate with Morrisville and that northeast area. As far as playing basketball goes, I never really had a choice but to love basketball. I had three uncles who played basketball in college, two at the Division I level, and one at Fayetteville State with my father; I grew up surrounded by it. Even though my mom’s side of the family doesn’t have any college athletes, they all love sports as well. My mom is a big sports fan and loves the Pittsburgh Steelers. She was also a big fan of Michael Jordan when he played at UNC. I was always drawn towards basketball, and I got to see two of my uncles play basketball from a very young age (one played at LaSalle, and the other played at Rutgers). At the beginning, I was too young to know what was going on. But when my second uncle was at Rutgers, I was a bit older (around 10 years old). I got to go visit him at his dorm and bring him care packages, and I got to go to a lot of his games. I completely fell in love with the atmosphere there and was very proud to see my family successful at a very high level.”
“Since my uncle was at Rutgers when I was at a very conscious age, I really wanted to go to Rutgers and they recruited me pretty hard. I visited Rutgers unofficially. I also visited Seton Hall, Penn, Princeton, (all three of those were also unofficial visits), and my only two official visits were to James Madison and Notre Dame. I suffered some injuries the summer going into my senior year, at which point I had been rated pretty high. Even with my injury, I had time to do some good things, and so I was going to wait until later in the season to commit. As I was going through that fall, one of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union of Boys Basketball) teams I was on randomly asked me if I would ever be interested in playing basketball at Notre Dame and I said, ‘Yeah, I guess;’ even though I didn’t really think anything of it. Notre Dame’s new coach at the time, Matt Doherty, had recruited me as a sophomore when he was still at Kansas and that’s how he knew who I was. Now that he was at Notre Dame, I was still on his radar.”
I always thought, ‘Why would they go to Notre Dame, it’s a football school?’
“When I visited Notre Dame, I had already taken a few unofficial visits at that point, but when I got to Notre Dame (which was my last visit) I was completely blown away. I was familiar with Notre Dame because of the football team and the movie Rudy, but basketball wise, I wasn’t very conscious of it even though a few people from my area had gone there (Matt Carroll and Martin Ingelsby). I always thought, ‘Why would they go to Notre Dame, it’s a football school?’ They were the biggest deal in basketball, where I came from, and yet they went to play basketball at a football school. At that point I was unaware of the rich basketball history at Notre Dame. When I went to Notre Dame for my official visit, Matt Carroll was my host, who, by-the-way, is one of the coolest, smoothest dudes you’ll ever meet. You could not (and still cannot) find one single person who didn’t like Matt. I had played against him in high school and ironically he was one of the reasons I got recruited on a high level. A lot of AAU teams were at our games recruiting him, and so I got looks as a result of the scouts being at our games. When I visited James Madison I enjoyed it, but they were obviously nervous about me going to Notre Dame the next weekend. They kept telling me, ‘Remember you’re going to Notre Dame next weekend, and ND is a football school,’ trying to temper my excitement. But once I went to ND, and hung with the guys, and experienced that football game, it wasn’t even a thought. I committed before I even left Notre Dame. It was a no brainer for me. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Without even knowing it, the Notre Dame Value Stream had entered Torrian’s life and swept him towards a path that would change his life forever.
The Notre Dame Years
“After I had committed, Doherty came and watched one of my high school games and did an in-home visit at my house to meet my family. I was asking him the normal questions, and one thing I asked him was, ‘How long do you see yourself at Notre Dame?’ To which he replied, ‘This is honestly a dream job and the only way I’d ever leave is if (my alma mater) North Carolina called.’ We laughed about it because Bill Guthridge had just gotten the job at UNC and we didn’t see him going anywhere any time soon. Shortly after that he retired unexpectedly and, no surprise, Doherty got the call. He was a hot young coach that had almost gotten Notre Dame to the tournament in his first year, a team that hadn’t been there in 10 or 11 years. He was very good and gracious about it. He called me and he actually cried on the phone to me, he felt that bad about leaving us behind. He’s a very emotional guy in general, and he had spent a lot of time building relationships with each of us. He had told me on many occasions that he couldn’t wait for me to get there. I felt it was cool that he reached out like that. And, in a roundabout way, without overstepping any bounds, he suggested that I come with him to UNC. But obviously I was all in on Notre Dame. Coach Brey made it a point to come and visit me (and also Martin Ingelsby) pretty quickly during the off season. Then he actually came back and visited me a second time. When Coach Brey made that quick connection, that was very important and it meant a lot to me. And after meeting him the first time, I felt very reassured that I was making the right decision.”
As a top-rated, successful high school basketball player, you are used to playing under pressure, and in front of packed houses and rambunctious crowds. But the transition from the high school scene to a Division I school is something that is extremely difficult to prepare for. This is when the Notre Dame student-athlete is fortunate to have the Notre Dame Value Stream at their side to guide them through the rocky waters of the transition, and settle them into a place of peace and calm.
The transition for Torrian “was a mixture of different things. Overall, it was great to be in the family environment that naturally happens really quickly when you’re on any sort of college team. I inherited a group of guys who became like brothers to me. It was tough making the transition from high school to a school like Notre Dame. I worked harder at Notre Dame than I ever had to work before. It was frustrating at times because we all came from being the big fish in a small pond, to being the small fish in a big pond. There were a lot of very talented players ahead of me in my position, and I had to work extremely hard to get a starting job. My hope was that I would arrive at Notre Dame and make a big splash right from the beginning, but that wasn’t my path. It was challenging at times just trying to remain confident and to continue to work and know that you’re making an investment. I worked very hard, but yet I didn’t play much my freshman year. It really killed me, feeling that I could do more for the team than what I was able to show the coaches, and that made the transition quite difficult for me. But with everything involved, from the social experience, to the teammates and friends (with whom I became close very quickly), to the environment playing on that huge stage that was Big East basketball; the transition did get easier. I was used to playing to sellout crowds when I was in high school, but it was nothing like playing in the Big East conference, and playing teams like Kentucky on the road. Or playing at the basketball mecca, Madison Square Garden, and to look up in the rafters and see all of the names hanging up there.”
“That was definitely tough. It was the constant challenge of battling what you had felt for the longest time. You had the utmost confidence in yourself, and yet your coaches weren’t rewarding you for all of your efforts and hard work. At practice I had my good days where I thought my performance was going to earn me in game playing minutes, and then it wasn’t happening. It seemed like my playing time wasn’t based on my production during practice. It was either based on guys ahead of me playing poorly or guys ahead of me getting injured, in order for me to get minutes on the court. Dealing with that situation at that age was hard. It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around what I needed to do to prove myself. I had always been used to getting playing time based on my production and the merits of my talent, and my frustration and immaturity with the situation then lead me to not wanting to put in the work outside of practice. My immature mind’s reaction was, ‘What’s the point? Why should I continue to work on my skills outside of practice?’ That first year was definitely the toughest for me.”
“And then, after that first year, I leaned on my family to help me figure out how to crack the rotation. As a sophomore, there were still a bunch of guys ahead of me, and so I started playing outside of my position as a backup point guard, and then Notre Dame recruited Chris Thomas, a big point guard who slid right in there into a starting spot. But I continued to do what I did well, paying attention to what only I could bring to the table, instead of trying to fit in and do what everyone else was doing. By the second or third game of conference play I ended up starting. At the beginning, I tried to assimilate what other guys were doing, instead of bringing the unique skills that only I could bring to the team. When I began to shift my focus on what I could do that others couldn’t do, for example my defensive ability, Coach Brey rewarded me with more playing time. I still didn’t have the opportunities I thought I should have to showcase my skills freely, but at least I had a role and could get in there. And then as I grew with the team, finally as a senior, I started every game that year. I had more opportunities to play and showcase my talents within the system, and had more confidence as to where I fit in to the team.”
Everyone knows it is difficult to be a student at Notre Dame, but to survive as a student-athlete at a school where both academics and athletes are quite rigorous; you have to be willing to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices. Thankfully you have the Notre Dame Value Stream there with you to show you why the work is necessary, and how to do it.
“It’s cool to be able to do both things (student and athlete) and travel, and participate in the athlete experience, but it’s pretty difficult as you can image. Being a student at Notre Dame is difficult in itself. When you add the time demands of being an athlete, and then the physical and mental demands, it is tough to balance all of that and still put the time and energy necessary into academics. My freshman year was solid, and overall my entire academic career was solid, but I had my ups and downs. Maintaining my ability to prioritize things was challenging. I had to learn to not allow whatever was going on during the season to affect how I managed my time as it pertained to academics. Some semesters were harder than others depending on what classes you had and your specific major.”
“When I first got to Notre Dame I wanted to be a computer science major, based on a couple of classes I had taken in high school. This was before I realized that at Notre Dame, computer science was in the school of engineering, and I was not a science person at all. I realized early on that computer science was not a good fit for me. Martin Ingelsby was a senior when I was a freshman and he was a marketing major. He had mentioned to me that he liked it a lot because it involved a lot of group projects and presentations, and it focused on how you speak and present in front of a group. He also told me that it was a very manageable major when combined with playing a sport like basketball. What I didn’t realize at the time was that being a marketing major would help me learn how to speak well in front of a group, which I now use every day as a college coach. I decided to switch and became a marketing major, maybe for the wrong reasons (merely because Martin told me it was manageable along with playing basketball). However, at the end of the day it was the perfect degree for me and it prepared me for everything I’ve done in life since Notre Dame, in both my business career and my current basketball career. It matured me and it helped me strengthen my weakness, which at the time was being able to confidently speak in front of a group, as I was quite shy. I went into the financial industry after college, and so the economics, accounting and finance classes that I took really helped springboard me into my career outside of basketball.”
Interested in discovering more about Torrian’s journey? Dive into the next chapter of his life after graduating from Notre Dame in the third installment of my Echoes From Notre Dame book series, “Triumphs From Notre Dame: Echoes of Her Loyal Sons & Daughters.” You can grab a (signed) copy at my website, or on Amazon.
Cheers & GO IRISH!