Humphrey returns to ‘basketball school’

This is the Notre Dame that Ryan Humphrey joined as a transfer 16 years ago. After playing in Mike Brey’s rebuilding project back then, now Humphrey will coach in a program with national credibility.

Ryan Humphrey has already made the recruiting calls, looking for the next him.

But these days the Humphrey 2.0 seems more likely to call back. And it won’t take a transfer, how Humphrey first landed at Notre Dame after two years at Oklahoma, to start that conversation.

When Humphrey enrolled here the year before Mike Brey was hired, McDonald’s All-Americans were as scarce as NCAA Tournament bids. Now Notre Dame is fresh off back-to-back Elite 8’s while former McDonald’s All-American Demetrius Jackson is set to be a first-round pick next week. Humphrey, a first-round pick after playing his final two seasons for Brey, has seen Notre Dame raise expectations.

“This is what I always envisioned when I transferred here, for Notre Dame to be a national basketball power,” Humphrey said. “I think when you say Notre Dame, now it’s just not a football school and an academic school, but it’s a basketball school as well.”

Humphrey took part in his first summer workout on Thursday, drilling bigs Bonzie Colson, Austin Torres and Martin Geben. A grinding career that took him from the NBA to Italy, Cyprus and Spain has sapped some of that above-the-rim athleticism. So have five surgeries, including ones to his right knee and Achilles.

Yet when Humphrey works Notre Dame’s bigs, he plans to work Notre Dame’s bigs.

Even at age 36 after a circuitous professional career that averaged almost two teams per season, Humphrey still has enough juice to get on the block. Parts of the player who averaged 18.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game as a senior remain. Humphrey was first-team All-Big East that spring and nearly led Notre Dame past Duke in the NCAA Tournament.

“I feel like when I’m out there, not to brag or boast, but if they can score on me and take my physical-ness, then playing in the ACC in certain games, they’ll be fine for it,” Humphrey said. “It’s a situation where I look forward to it because it keeps me young.”

Humphrey returns to a head coach he said has changed less than the former power forward just hired. During Thursday’s workout, Humphrey said he picked Brey’s system back up without issue, even in his first practice as a full-time assistant coach.

Brey might be Humphrey’s base in coaching, but he’s worked under Hubie Brown, Doc Rivers and Mike Fratello. He’s counseled with Doug Collins and worked for his son Chris at Northwestern as Director of Player Development last season.

“There’s not a place where they dribble a basketball where I don’t have a connection,” Humphrey said. “I don’t think a lot of people that’s out there in recruiting can say they have that value.”

Now come the hard parts for Humphrey, beyond relocating his family to his alma mater, where pictures of the coach as a player hang around the Joyce Center. The Irish need new bigs badly in their next class and they need to better develop the ones already on campus to compete this year.

Again, those raised expectations are something Humphrey embraces. He didn’t get to play in this new world of Elite 8 runs and ACC Tournament titles. But now he’s coaching and recruiting in it.

“It’s amazing when you call and get someone’s voicemail and you say, ‘Hey, this is Ryan Humphrey from Notre Dame.’ It’s amazing how fast that the phone rings back,” Humphrey said. “That goes to coach Brey and the previous staff because beforehand I don’t think it would have been like that. They would have said, ‘Is this a football school?’

“It’s easy for me to say, not only are we a top-notch academic school, we’re a top-notch basketball school too. They raised the bar and it’s easy for me to get in the doors with different kids.”


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