Heading into the final week of spring practice, let's take a quick break from football and look at some of the recent happenings with the Irish basketball team.
Now is the all-star season for basketball recruits and three of Notre Dame's four incoming freshman participated in games featuring some of the best high school seniors in the country. Indiana Mr. Basketball Luke Zeller played his first game in the JACC in the McDonald's All-American game and then joined future teammate Ryan Ayers in the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic in Louisville. All-star games tend to reward guards as a team game is rarely played, but Zeller did show off decent passing skills for a big man in the McDonalds game. That may not sound very exciting, but anyone who watched Notre Dame have trouble passing out of low-post double teams last season should welcome this news as a very good thing.
In the three-point shooting competition before the Derby Classic, Ayers, a recent AP All-State First Team selection, showed off his range and won the competition, beating out Kansas recruit Mario Chalmers and Duke signee Greg Paulus. This comes after Ayers made it to the finals of the three-point shooting competition of the Charm City Challenge. Notre Dame fans hope that Ayers will be able to add a dependable mid-range game to the Irish lineup, but surely won't mind if his range extends beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Kyle McAlarney, recently named All-New York City First Team, represented a team from his home state against some of the best players from Chicago in the 7th annual Old Spice Red Zone All-Star Shootout. Reportedly, the announcers were impressed with his overall command of the game and seemingly limitless shooting range and multiple demands to see immediate playing time for McAlarney popped up on ND message boards from fans who watched the game.
The only Irish recruit not to play in a major All-Star game was Zach Hillesland. Hillesland however did cap off an impressive career at St. Johns Jesuit by being named AP All-State Second Team in Ohio's largest division and earning the respect of area sportswriters. Check out this video to see Hillesland(#34) on the receiving end of a nice reverse alley-oop in a league game this past season.
As ND fans anticipate the arrival of the heralded recruiting class, it seems some current team members might not be back in the fall to join them. Senior forward Dennis Latimore has other year of eligibility, but has apparently decided not to use it. The former Arizona player was perhaps the most hyped of Coach Brey's transfers, but never seemed to comfortably settle into the rotation and shortly into the season saw his playing time reduced in favor of Colin Falls. His departure most likely means more playing time for Rick Cornett, who has steadily been improving during his time at ND.
The real shocker news of the spring is that junior Torin Francis declared himself eligble for the upcoming NBA Draft. I really don't think any Irish fans saw this coming. However, he will not hire an agent and Coach Brey makes it sound like Francis will be back.
"While my gut tells me that Torin Francis is a four-year player for us here at Notre Dame, I fully support the decision he has made to explore the option he has of playing in the NBA next season. My job now is to help him collect information on where he stands in regards to the June draft. We need to keep in mind that this is a young man that has undergone major back surgery and I understand that he may want to take advantage of the fact that he is healthy right now."Some may question why Francis is trying to make the leap to The League when he had trouble putting up consistently strong performances in the Big East. Perhaps that inconsistency could partly be blamed on looking forward to trying out for the NBA. Either way, Francis will get a chance to play in pre-draft camps against other NBA hopefuls and will get an honest appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses from NBA coaches and scouts. Irish fans can hope that Francis will take the constructive criticisms to heart and comes back with for a solid senior campaign. He has the physical skills to play in the NBA (perhaps, as Dylan has mentioned, in a Dale Davis type role), but has yet to put it all together while wearing an Irish uniform.