Six weeks ago on Friday, JJ Starling High School climbed into the passenger seat of a Ferrari while Notre Dame coach Mike Brey sat behind the wheel.
Starling’s official visit to the nearby LaPorte LaLumiere School campus had started in a most unique – but now seemingly appropriate – way.
In the previous four seasons of college basketball, Notre Dame operated as a late model of the Buick Century that had seen better days. There were bald tires, rust issues, no side mirrors and just about every fluid leak imaginable out there in the Rolfs Hall lot.
There is optimism that the Irish race will be so much smoother and longer this season, and even more so in a year after what happened early Tuesday evening. It was at this point that Starling basically guaranteed that he would receive the keys to the Irish Hoops in the years to come.
One of the best combo guards in the country and the only high school player to top Ireland’s recruiting wishlist, Starling has made public his plans to play for Notre Dame from 2022-2023.
âWhat really stood out was Coach Brey,â Starling said in her five-minute Instagram Live announcement / interview. âHe reminded me of my AAU coach and my coach here at LaLu (Patrick Holmes, Notre Dame graduate and former manager of the Irish team under Brey). I found myself very comfortable around them.
âAt the end of the day, that’s what you really want, especially if you’re going to play at the college level. You want to be comfortable and be able to trust the guy you’re playing for.â
A four-star and top 40 consensus rookie, Starling chose Notre Dame over Duke and Syracuse via Instagram at LaLumiere. Listen intently and you might hear the cheers – or sighs of relief – back in Saint Joseph County on the Notre Dame campus.
The Irish got their future leader on the ground. The guards under Brey get a lot of stuff, and Starling is next. It was a “Whoa!” recruiting moment for a program which, for too many commitments, had too many “Who?” ” moments.
It is big for Brey and big for the program. Starling is the kind of talent Notre Dame often recruited, but rarely landed. Brey and his team spent time recruiting a kid, getting to know a kid, only to answer a phone call that said, hey, Coach, I really love you and I love your program, but I love this more. program.
Notre Dame is finally the program that a truly talented prospect preferred.
Starling picking Notre Dame if Duke icon Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t retire at the end of the season? May be. Maybe not. But the Irish got it.
It’s a great sign that Brey can still do this dance. Let this new coaching staff also have some awesome moves. That this program is not what it has been for the past four years.
âHe’s a cool guy,â Starling said of Brey. “He lets his guards go. He trusts his players and his players trust him. That’s what I really like.”
A 6-foot-5, 195-pounder from Baldwinsville, New York, entering his sophomore year at LaLu, Starling is ranked 27th in the nation’s prospect by ESPN, 33rd by 247Sports and 40th by Rivals. The three recruiting services rank him as a four-star prospect.
Starling will be the highest high school / college prospect to sign with Notre Dame since the fall of 2012, when Marian High School product Demetrius Jackson, an eventual McDonald’s All-American, chose Notre Dame over Illinois.
He could become the first McDonald’s All-American since Jackson to sign with Notre Dame when the annual burger all-star squad is announced in early 2022. Jackson has been listed by a recruiting service as the nation’s 35th college prospect.
With current Chief of the Guard / Senior Captain Prentiss Hubb set to graduate in the spring – and her additional year of eligibility for 2022-2023 unknown – Notre Dame needs someone to take her place immediately next season. . Starling should be that guy.
Having already visited Notre Dame twice in the summer, Starling has set her official visit for Labor Day weekend. This holiday weekend Friday, Brey borrowed a red Ferrari to travel the 40 miles to LaLumiere to bring Starling back for the weekend – all legitimate under NCAA recruiting regulations.
Starling eventually also made official visits to Syracuse and Duke. He canceled a planned official visit to Northwestern. He made an official visit earlier this summer to Maryland.
Notre Dame was among the first schools to contact Starling under NCAA recruiting rules in June 2020.
How much of a priority was Starling for Notre Dame? On the first day of the fall evaluation period last month, when coaches could hit the road and recruit in person, Brey and all of his staff – associate coach Anthony Solomon and assistant coaches Ryan Humphrey and Antoni Wyche – went to LaLu to see Starling.
It was a show of force, a show of seriousness. Like, you’re our guy.
Starling was the number one priority for Notre Dame in this recruiting cycle. The feeling was mutual. Starling was very early on about Notre Dame and really never hesitated.
As a junior at LaLu, Starling averaged 14.9 points and 1.9 assists per game. The year before at Baker High School in central New York, he averaged 28.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
Starling has at least 17 scholarship offers – most from major schools. He played AAU basketball for the respected City Rocks program in Albany, NY.
Starling is the second high school student to offer Brey an engagement. In July, 6-8, 235-pound power forward Dominick Campbell of Exeter (NH) Phillips Academy signed up for Notre Dame. Anyone can guess how the rest of the recruiting class is doing, including Brey’s.
The 2021-2022 roster includes six seniors and one graduate student, all of whom are on track to earn degrees in the spring. Six of the seven have the option of returning next season, including Hubb, a three-year incumbent as point guard.
That comes back ? Who doesn’t? Who knows?
âMy assistants ask me ‘How many scholarships do we have?’â Brey said earlier this month. âI have no idea, but let’s sign some guys. I’ll find out from the back.
Meanwhile, Brey got some really good news – some needed good recruiting news – upstream.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI