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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Irish enter new era of men’s hoops with Shrewsberry at the helm

Welcome to a new era of Notre Dame men’s basketball. After 23 seasons under legendary Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, Notre Dame is ready to begin a new era with former Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry. After transforming the culture at Penn State, the Indianapolis native is looking to do the same for the Irish. Shrewsberry will be taking over a team that finished with an underwhelming 11-21 record last year, so he is definitely in for a process. 

Shrewsberry has a daunting task ahead of him. With a team that consists of 11 scholarship players, five walk-ons and four returning players, Coach Shrewsberry is in for a roller coaster ride. However, he is not a stranger to rebuilding programs. When Shrewsberry took on the Penn State job in the 2021-2022 season, the Nittany Lions had not made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 and had not won a tournament game since 2001. It only took Shrewsberry two seasons to reverse both of those droughts.

After a deep Big 10 tournament run where the Nittany Lions finished as runner-ups, they were able to lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament. Penn State then went on to get their first NCAA tournament win since 2001 in dominant fashion against Texas A&M. Penn State got knocked out the next round in a close loss against Texas, but what Shrewsberry was able to accomplish in his two-season tenure was nothing short of remarkable. 

Notre Dame has one preseason game under their belt as they head into the regular season. Although preseason games may not be seen as significant, they are significant for teams like Notre Dame who are trying to build continuity. The Irish played Hanover in an exhibition game last Monday, winning 96-62 before beating Niagra 70-63 last night in their season opener.

The exhibition gave a good glimpse of who the Irish plan to heavily rely on this season. The Irish started Markus Burton, Braeden Shrewsberry, Kebba Njie, Julian Roper II and Tae Davis. Their starting five consisted of two freshmen and three transfers. Based on this performance, it seems like the Irish will heavily rely on their two freshman guards Burton and Shrewsberry to be creators. Burton and Shrewsberry accounted for a third of the Irish’s points. 

Markus Burton — former Mr. Basketball of Indiana — led the team in scoring with 18 points on an efficient 7-10 shooting. Burton was the only player out of the three players in Coach Brey’s final recruiting class who remained committed to Notre Dame despite Brey’s departure. The Mishawaka native is the first Mr. Basketball to sign with Notre Dame since 2004. Although Burton is a freshman, Burton will have high expectations this year given how unestablished Notre Dame’s core is. Coach Shrewsberry understands his importance and is encouraging him to be the best version of himself in order to get the most out of Burton.

“He’s done it, right? He hasn’t done it at the college level, but how he’s played, the major thing for him is I want him to be himself,” Shrewsberry said. “He doesn’t have to be who I think he should be. We just want him to be himself and play the way he can.”

The starting freshmen backcourt is joined by two other freshmen, Carey Booth and Logan Imes. Both freshmen were original Penn State signees who followed Shrewsberry to South Bend. Imes is a tough and gritty guard from Zionsville, Indiana, who will be asked to take on tough defensive assignments throughout the season.

Booth is the most highly touted recruit in Notre Dame’s incoming class, holding a 49th national player rank. The freshman out of Brewster Academy just turned 18 years old in late July and will be expected to produce right out of the gates. Booth comes from an NBA background, as his father Calvin is the current GM for the Denver Nuggets. While Coach Shrewsberry understands how young Booth is, he still has high expectations for his four-star recruit.

“Carey’s really productive, man. For someone who just turned 18 in late July, he should be playing high school basketball, but he shows it in flashes, his productivity. Now it’s about being more consistent,” Shrewsberry said. 

The Irish will heavily rely on their three transfers as well. Roper II, Njie and Davis were all starters in the exhibition game, so that is a good implication of what is expected of them coming into the season. Roper II is a transfer junior guard from Northwestern, who will be expected to add defensive toughness and experience to the Irish backcourt. Njie is a sophomore transfer forward who followed Shrewsberry to South Bend from Penn State. He was a starter on the Nittany Lions last year as well.

Given that he is the only player on the team that has experience in Shrewberry’s system, a lot will be asked of him. Njie will be asked to anchor the defense and provide valuable leadership for the team. Davis is a sophomore transfer forward from Seton Hall. The 6-foot-9, 208-pound forward brings versatility to the team, and Coach Shrewsberry has high hopes for him this season.

“I’ve stayed on him in practice because I want so much from him. He’s really, really talented and what he’s able to do with the basketball,” Shrewsberry said about Davis. “We’re putting a lot on his shoulders. We expect a lot from him.” 

The three returning players will be strongly counted on to provide leadership and production. Senior leaders Tony Sanders Jr. and Matt Zona will be heavily relied on as leaders and maintaining the old Irish culture. As the only true seniors on the team, both players have a great understanding of what is required to be exemplary student-athletes. Junior J.R. Konieczny, who sat out last season, will be expected to take a big leap this year. The South Bend native was a part of the same class that brought in former Irish standout and South Bend native Blake Wesley. Shrewsberry is excited to see what Konieczny can provide for the team this season.

“There are different guys that make moves up the depth chart because they’re trying to do what you ask. I think if you ask J.R. about preseason practice, he’d probably tell you he’s having more fun than he’s ever had before,” Shrewsberry said. “You see the joy in his face. He’s going to play for us, man. He’s going to be on the court. He’s going to help us.”

There is a lot to look forward to as an Irish Basketball fan. Shrewsberry’s strong track record proves that he is the right man for the job. As an Indiana native and former IU South Bend head coach, Shrewsberry has a strong connection to Irish Culture and is committed to turning this program around. Given Shrewsberry’s success with Penn State, who had much less recent success than the Irish, there is no question that he can get the job done. Although Shrewsberry has a successful track record, Irish fans need to be patient with him because the Irish program will not transform overnight.