During Notre Dame men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey’s state-of-the-union update of the program with media this week, he also became somewhat of a prophet from two years.
Back in April 2018, Brey predicted that more and more top high school basketball talent will opt for the then fledgling NBA G League, or going overseas to get paid, rather than impersonate a student in college for several months.
In the spring of 2018, the Commission on College Basketball — on which Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins C.S.C. served — set out to help clean up at least some of the cesspool that has become part of the recruiting culture of college basketball.
The commission, comprised of former college coaches, former college and NBA players, university presidents and athletic directors, spent seven months addressing and outlining myriad problem areas that even resulted in FBI investigations.
One of them was the “one and done” deal where instead of a top high school player going directly from high school to the NBA — as luminaries such as the late Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett or LeBron James did in their time — the NBA since 2006 required at least a year buffer from high school to the NBA before making the jump.
It has become a charade for the premier basketball players to major in “eligibility” for the first semester before playing for the school four or five months and then departing for the NBA draft. In essence, college basketball had become merely a farm system for top talent
“It undermines and gives mockery to the very idea that these kids are coming here to get a degree,” Jenkins summarized.
In college basketball, players can still leave after one or two seasons if they so desire, and Brey doesn’t foresee a system such as that in baseball or hockey where a student-athlete competes at least three years at the collegiate level.
The G League, however, has opened a new door. In the spring of 2018, 6-9 five-star Syracuse recruit Darius Bazley decided instead to go directly to the G League to begin his potential future NBA career. Brey predicted then that the money would improve in the G League, and it has substantially.
Recently, Rivals.com No. 2 overall player Jalen Green indicated he is headed to the NBA G League development program that will pay him, per Rivals’ Corey Evans, more than $500,000 with a “Select Contract,” which does not even include a shoe contract or other endorsements.
Meanwhile, No. 14-ranked recruit Isaiah Todd de-committed from his pledge to Michigan to likewise join the professional ranks. Per Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, “this is a distinct pivot point in the history of American basketball.”
“I think the NBA is doing it as a big middle finger to the NCAA,” a prominent NBA agent anonymously told Thamel. “This is how it’s going to be, we’re going to take control of the development of top players.”
Brey saw it coming two years ago.
“It’s real,” Brey reaffirmed this Wednesday. “This trend has been coming, it’s going to happen and it’s going to be more and more prevalent. We’re just going to have to deal with it.”
The good news is that Brey doesn’t see this affecting Notre Dame too significantly.
“I’m not as concerned as much because our mission in our place, we’re probably not getting guys like that — because the guys we get are interested in the degree at Notre Dame,” Brey said.
Although Thamel presented a case that this can affect the quality of the college basketball and interest in the product, this at least eliminates some of the student-athlete charade and could help build more of a four-year mentality in programs. Plus, the $600-million windfall, or thereabouts (although not this year), that come with March Madness, likely shouldn’t suffer too much.
“There are many programs affected, but here’s my attitude: We’ll have kids take their place,” Brey said. “There will still be good players out there. If a guy wants to go and he wants to go the G League or go to Europe instead of giving us a year, go and do your thing. We’ll fill in behind with kids that love the opportunity and are good players.”
About five or six years into his Notre Dame tenure, Brey (embarking on his 21st season) began to accept that the school likely will not attract the upper tier talents (top 10 to top 25) that a Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina will.
Not that the Irish didn’t or wouldn’t try — i.e. Cole Anthony and Isaiah Stewart in 2019, both of whom are now turning pro after one season — but the culture at the school and in the basketball program centered more on development over four or even five years where a high basketball IQ and teamwork will have at least a chance against superior NBA-level younger talent.
Thus, his target market has been more amongst the top 50- to 150-ranked players per year. First-team All-ACC pick John Mooney was ranked No. 144 by Rivals in 2016. All-American Bonzie Colson was ranked No. 145 by Rivals. Notre Dame’s lone current NBA representative Pat Connaughton, was No. 128, while former NBA guard Jerian Grant was No. 105.
The highest ranking over the past 15 years was local product Demetrius Jackson (No. 38), who turned pro after his junior year in 2016. D.J. Harvey was No. 51 in 2017, but he has since transferred to Vanderbilt.
The current junior class that includes guards/wings Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin, Cormac Ryan and Robby Carmody, plus forward Nate Laszewski, were ranked among the top 55-110.
While these players don’t have future lottery picks written all over them, and maybe not even an NBA career, down the road, they too can develop as juniors and seniors the way the back-to-back Elite Eight teams did in 2015 and 2016.
The absence of the one-and-done player from college doesn’t mean it will be easier in recruiting for Notre Dame. In fact, another prediction Brey made two years ago is it could become more challenging in some ways.
“It’s interesting because those people that recruit ‘one-and-dones’ are now going to recruit the same pool we recruit, so maybe it will be more competitive in our recruiting,” Brey said. “… It makes me think about our recruiting when that changes.”