When Jordan Cornette arrived at Notre Dame in 2001 as a hotshot high school player out of Cincinnati, Ryan Humphrey – the 6-foot-8, 235-pound transfer from Oklahoma -- was about to begin his second year of play with the Irish.
Cornette (2001-05), who captained the Irish his last two seasons at Notre Dame, would finish with 201 blocked shots in his career to rank No. 1 on the all-time Notre Dame list – one blocked shot ahead of No. 2 LaPhonso Ellis.
Cornette, who serves as host of Campus Insiders and is a CBS Sports Network analyst, remembers fondly his introduction to Humphrey.
“I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears 18-year-old freshman who had been the king of my town in Cincinnati coming into a whole new world,” recalled Cornette.
“I felt a little out a place in the beginning, as most freshmen do. That was a team that had so many older guys on it – Dave Graves, Harold Swanagan, Hump, Matty Carroll, and Chris Thomas, the other guy in my recruiting class who played like he was a senior.
“What I remember is a very old, veteran, mature team, and I looked to two guys who got me through my freshman year and taught me so much about basketball, and that was Harold Swanagan and Ryan Humphrey. Those were the two guys that helped me to develop.”
The following is Cornette’s experience of playing with Humphrey, developing a friendship, getting to know a true dedicated teammate, and the personality that Humphrey brings to Notre Dame as Mike Brey’s newest assistant coach
“Ryan had played one year at Notre Dame, Coach Brey’s first year, but he was recruited by Matt Doherty. I came to Notre Dame during his last season.
“Hump was a guy who showed me how to play in the post, showed me what worked and what didn’t work. He challenged me to be better. Imagine me as an 18-year-old going against one of the top players in the country who at that time was 23- or 24-years-old. He took me under his wing.
“I remember our first trip -- to Hawaii for a tournament early in my freshman season. He was my roommate for seven days and he made this connection. He understood that I was a young guy far away from home and all this was new to me.
“He developed a friendship with me and he gave me nicknames. He used to call me Ethi for Ethiopian because I was a skinny kid. Stuff like that. He was definitely a guy that made you feel comfortable.
“On the court, I’ve never seen a guy who could dunk in your face, who wanted to win as badly as he did, and then hit you with that charismatic smile. He was coming for the opponent’s neck.
“As a player, it was so incredible to watch. He was one of the most gifted players I ever played with. How easy it came to him was fascinating, but this guy also worked at his craft. Just because he could out-jump you and block shots and dunk on you didn’t mean he wasn’t going to work on developing a jump shot and becoming a great rebounder.
“This is a guy they put IVs in at halftime because his body fat was so low, he’d cramp up. That’s the kind of high-level athlete you’re talking about, but he never relied on just being an athlete. He honed his craft and became such a skilled athlete that he was a top 20 pick in the NBA draft.
“The fact that he was a captain his last year at Notre Dame speaks to the relationship he had with Coach Brey. He was a Doherty guy. You would never have known he was a Doherty guy because of how close of a bond he had with Coach Brey during those two years. He was a leader. He was that type of guy.
“It’s a different time in Coach Brey’s career. He’s older. He’s established among that upper-elite class of coaches. He doesn’t necessarily need to surround himself with the elder minds in coaching. He can groom these guys and build a program for them to carry on when he’s gone.
“Ryan Humphrey might not have the X’s and O’s next to his name now, but I’m fully confident he can go into a home and recruit a kid and sell them on why he should come to Notre Dame. He’ll speak to the parents about the importance of a Notre Dame education, believing this is the right fit and then delivering on it.
“What has been so sorely missed at Notre Dame is a big-man coach. He’s that guy. He fills that void. A kid like (John) Mooney coming in will really benefit from him. Guys like (Martinas) Geben, who has been there a while, will get that IQ right away in the evolution of big men. That’s huge.
“He’ll recruit. He has that personality. He has ties to the NBA. He brings that feel. He commands attention when he walks into any room. He’s a good-looking guy, he’s funny, he’s got a big laugh and a ton of charisma. For a lot of reasons, I think it’s the right fit.
“He can relate to the kid from the streets as well as the upper-middle class kid with the silver spoon. The European kid, the kid who’s on the fast track or the kid who’s struggling, he can relate to everybody because he’s seen what somebody needs and how to relate to him. He’s so charismatic and has such a great personality that he relates to a lot of people.
“He commands respect because he’s achieved it, but he’s also a competitor and can get the best out of people as a motivator. When Hump would yell in the locker room, it wasn’t just loud noises. It was coming from somewhere, and you felt that heart and desire. Hump is a guy that whatever he does, he’s going to do it 150 percent because he doesn’t want to be average at it.
“He understands that it’s important for him to understand who he can learn from, who he can get pieces of information from to better understand Notre Dame now compared to when he left. That tells me that this guy gets it.
“I think there’s another way he’s going to help Notre Dame. His name resonates in Big 12 country. He can go into some of those homes and steal some of those kids. Big 12 basketball has some of the best talent, which is where he grew up.
“We joke about it, but he looks like he can still put on a uniform, which really pisses me off because I’m about five years younger than him. He looks a lot better than me with his shirt off. He’ll be able to go on the court and actually show the bigs how to do it.
“The ability to see a guy do an up-and-under, or here’s a little trick that I learned, whether it be at Oklahoma, Notre Dame, the Magic or the Grizzlies in the league, is important.
“Anthony Solomon, Rod Balanis and Martin Ingelsby are brilliant basketball minds, but none of them were 6-foot-10 and guarded 6-foot-10 guys. Coach Brey has recognized there’s a real need to develop big men and Ryan Humphrey is as good as it gets in terms of tapping into those guys.”