Five offseason storylines to follow as Notre Dame men’s basketball shifts focus to 2022-23

On3 imageby:Patrick Engel03/22/22


The offseason is here for Notre Dame basketball following its NCAA Tournament loss. Here are five storylines to follow in the coming weeks as Mike Brey and the Irish shift their focus to building for the 2022-23 season.

1. Finding a forward in the transfer portal

As it stands, 33-game starter and third-leading scorer Paul Atkinson Jr. (12.5 points per game) does not have eligibility for next year. Assuming it stays that way (that’s the safe assumption right now), his departure will leave Notre Dame with a void in the middle and no proven in-house options to fill it.

Juniors-to-be Elijah Taylor and Matt Zona played a combined 31 minutes this year and 75 as freshmen. Forward Nate Laszewski was the backup five, but Notre Dame only uses him there when it downshifts to a small lineup. He’s best as a four. Relying on four-star signee Dom Campbell to win the job as a freshman is too big a risk to take before he even arrives on campus.

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Ideally, one of Zona or Taylor would have earned a rotational role this season and made himself a viable starting option for next year. Instead, Taylor missed the spring semester due to an academic issue and Zona played 18 total minutes. That leaves Notre Dame in the same spot it was last year. It snatched Atkinson, the former Ivy League co-Player of the Year, from the portal in January 2021.

Can the Irish find a similar player for a second straight year? Portal successes like Atkinson aren’t to be taken for granted. Finding two in a row is even rarer. The Irish can sell an immediate opening and a starting spot.

2. Fifth-year decisions

Notre Dame has six players who have fifth-year eligibility in 2022-23: Prentiss Hubb, Cormac Ryan, Dane Goodwin, Robby Carmody, Trey Wertz and Laszewski. Hubb, Goodwin, Wertz and Laszewski have eligibility for next year because of the COVID-19 waiver passed in 2020. Ryan and Carmody had fifth-year options available due to prior redshirts. If all return and no other departures occur, the Irish are one scholarship over the 13-man limit. That means at least one player cannot return or another has to depart.

Carmody has not played since December 2019 due to various injuries. Hubb gave a strong indication his time at Notre Dame is over on Selection Sunday when he said, “This is my last year.” Those are the two most likely not to use the fifth year at Notre Dame or anywhere.

The others are all possibilities or likely to return. Ryan hinted following Senior Day he plans to return. The sooner Brey gets an official indication from all, the better the options will be to add a piece or two around them.

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3. Blake Wesley’s next move

Freshman guard Blake Wesley established himself as a legitimate NBA prospect while leading the Irish in scoring (14.4 points per game), setting the table for him to potentially become Notre Dame’s first one-and-done. ESPN’s most recent mock draft has him as the No. 20 overall selection.

It is not a foregone conclusion he turns pro, though. A return would not be a surprise in the slightest. But he has the option to test the draft process, which would almost certainly include an NBA Draft Combine invitation and individual workouts for teams. If he goes that route, he has until June to make a final decision. Notre Dame will gladly wait that long. Will that be his move, or will he return to school without even entertaining the draft?

4. Eye on the 2023 class

High school recruits will begin AAU season in April with two live evaluation periods for coaches to watch: April 8-10 and 22-24.

Notre Dame has four offers out to 2023 recruits: four-star Indianapolis Cathedral forward Xavier Booker, Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne guard Lawrent Rice, four-star La Porte (Ind.) La Lumiere guard Aden Holloway and four-star Chicago Kenwood guard Darrin Ames.

Booker has been a priority since last summer and has visited campus twice this year. Notre Dame saw Rice at his school last fall, and he included the Irish in his top eight in January. Holloway is teammates with 2022 signee J.J. Starling. Ames, offered in December, is the most recent addition to the list. The April live periods are likely to result in more offers and further shape the board.

5. Who hits the portal?

Last offseason’s roster continuity was a matter of pride for Brey. Only one player hit the transfer portal, forward Nik Djogo. He left after finishing his graduate degree to play a sixth season using the COVID-19 waiver. He and Brey met before the season and concluded it would be his last even if the waiver passed.

Two years in a row with that kind of continuity, though, is a rare sight in college basketball. Notre Dame has three players (Zona, Taylor, forward Tony Sanders Jr.) who just completed their sophomore year without having cracked the rotation. That reality often lends itself to seeking a fresh start and a shot at more minutes. Will it here? A senior with a fifth-year option who chooses to use it elsewhere shouldn’t be completely ruled out either.

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