Even though practice for the Notre Dame men”s basketball team won’t begin for another four months, the program made big news on June 10 when Connecticut transfer Juwan Durham announced he’d be casting his lot with the Irish.
Notre Dame beat out other contenders in Virginia Tech and Villanova, two months after Durham announced he was transferring. One of the reported keys in that final decision was head coach Mike Brey and his staff immediately touching base with the 19-year-old power forward after Durham’s announcement.
The Key Word: Potential
Looking at the 6-11 Durham’s numbers from the 2016-17 campaign might not offer much excitement, after having averaged just 1.6 points and 1.5 rebounds while averaging just 8.3 minutes per game. However, he’s just one year removed from having been a four-star prospect from Tampa who was considered to be a Top 50 signing by a large number of recruiting experts.
Given his transfer status, Notre Dame fans won’t get to see him in action until the 2018-19 season commences. Exercising patience in this area is probably the wisest course of action because of the struggles that Durham had in adjusting to the college game.
That adjustment wasn’t helped by a January injury, though once he returned, it quickly became apparent that Durham and the Huskies weren’t a good fit. It would be easy to point the blame in Durham’s direction when it comes to that transfer, yet the fact that two other Connecticut players also left the program could hint at deeper issues for the Huskies.
Irish head coach Mike Brey isn’t terribly concerned what might be taking place in Storrs, since South Bend remains his focus. Instead, he’ll be able to work with Durham in practice and take advantage of the skills he showed off during a stellar high school career. Despite his size, he could handle the ball like a guard, yet was still a formidable presence in the paint.
While Durham didn’t get to put his talent on display at Connecticut, he also showed no signs of the knee problems that ended his junior year and completely wiped out his senior season. In both cases, the cause was a torn ACL, with both knees being subjected to surgery.
Durham Can Serve an Important Role in 2017
For the upcoming year, Brey will be able to have Durham covering Bonzie Colson in those practices, a situation that has the potential to be mutually beneficial for both players. Durham will be tasked with trying to guard the forward who was Notre Dame’s most important player last season and who passed up the chance to enter the NBA Draft to return for one more season. Meanwhile, Colson will have to repeatedly find a way to deal with Durham’s ample athleticism.
That particular situation is something that Colson figures to see on a regular basis once ACC plays rolls around. Those schools, which includes defending national champion North Carolina, always seem to have an endless array of big men, which will make life more difficult this season for the 6-5 Colson.
Fueling the Development Phase
In addition to having to sharpen his skills against the likes of Colson, Durham will also be given some important instruction from assistant coach Ryan Humphrey, who has a good understanding of the situation of this new arrival. That’s because Humphrey was also a power forward who arrived in South Bend by way of a transfer.
One area where that year-long hiatus will also serve as a benefit to Durham is in giving him time to bulk up his lean frame. A 220-pound body on someone 6-11 isn’t a recipe for being able to battle inside against bulkier players. That means the Irish training staff will look to add at least 20 or 30 pounds of muscle on him over the next 16 months.
A Light in the Wilderness
The current trajectories of both Durham and Colson mean that they’ll never take the court together in a Notre Dame uniform, with Colson gone after next season. However, Durham will be one piece of the puzzle in bolstering the Irish front line, with additional assets possible during the upcoming recruiting season.
Having had an extended dry spell when it came to getting big men to play for the Irish, the delayed addition of Durham gives hope for Notre Dame when the 2018-19 season rolls around. It’s clear from the recent big players to make their way to South Bend, like John Mooney and Martinas Geben, that an upgrade was in order.
The Project Begins
There’s no guarantee that Durham will reach the potential many recruiters once envisioned. Still, the good news is that Brey and staff are happy that they’ll be the ones to get the opportunity to find that out.