SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — When Cormac Ryan looks at Notre Dame’s list, he admits he’s one of the “grandfathers.”
The Fighting Irish guard finds himself in a group of several.
With fifth- and even sixth-grade players dotting all over college basketball teams thanks to NCAA eligibility rules, Notre Dame is among the most experienced teams in the country.
Ryan is one of six graduate students on the reborn Irishman, who went 24-11 last season, earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in five years and won two tournament games. Ryan and the others have returned to pursue bigger and better dreams.
“It’s a great group,” coach Mike Brey said. “They want to play deeper (in the tournament), they’ve learned how to win, they’re playing the right way, we’ve improved defensively and the leadership has been great.”
Most veterans aren’t just hanging out guys; it was upper classes that played key roles.
Guard Dane Goodwin (13.6 points) and forward Nate Laszewski (9.3 points, 6.5 rebounds) each started games in the previous four seasons, totaling 122 career starts.
Ryan (9.2 points) has been in the starting lineup for two-thirds of Ireland’s games over the past two seasons after making 17 starts in 2018-19 at Stanford. Guard Trey Wertz has recorded 72 career starts splitting the last four seasons at Notre Dame and Santa Clara.
Even the lone inbound transfer, left-handed guard Marcus Hammond, made 85 starts at Niagara where he averaged 18.1 points last season and earned his All-Metro Athletic Conference honors for the third straight time.
Brey, now in his 23rd season at South Bend, knows all of this could create more success for a team that finished tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.
Now the South Bend alumni are set to make one more run at a few titles.
“Absolutely,” Ryan said when asked about the motivational NCAA Tournament loss. “As good as our season was, we felt like we still had something left in the tank. The end of that Texas Tech game still keeps many of us awake at night.
As the upper classes draw attention, Brey has perhaps his best freshman class in several years.
It includes 6-foot-4 goaltender JJ Starling and 6-8 forward Ven-Allen Lubin. Both should have immediate impacts and Starling’s long range shot could help replace Blake Wesley left for the NBA after leading the team with 14.4 points.
Notre Dame also lost center Paul Atkinson (12.5 points, 6.9 rebounds) and guard Prentiss Hubb (8.9 points, 4.0 assists).
Notre Dame finished 11th nationally in 3-point percentage (38.1%) last season, making 9.1 per game, while limiting opponents to 32.2% and 6.7 per game.
Goodwin hit 70 3s and his shooting percentage of 45.8% was the best by an Irish player in nine years. Laszewski and Ryan weren’t far behind with 57 points each while shooting 45.6% and 40.7%. Hammond offers another option after making 68 and shooting 37% in Niagara.
“We have guys who can fill it,” Ryan said. “I think that’s a huge weapon for us, and to be able to stretch the ground, to be versatile, I mean we’re a dangerous team.”
MIXED BAGS SCHEDULE
Once the Irish enter conference play, their schedule will be among the toughest in the ACC given they will face No. 1 North Carolina twice and their one-game clashes with the others. League-ranked teams — No. 7 Duke and No. 18 Virginia — will each be on the road in February.
But the non-conference schedule, which opens Nov. 10 against Radford, is soft. The Irish play just two games away from South Bend and host Michigan State on Nov. 30.
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