NOTRE DAME – As another college basketball season slides into full swing, recruiting for the 2014 class is winding down at Notre Dame.
Coming off the summer evaluation period where coaches crisscross the country to watch AAU tournaments from morning to night before hurrying to catch yet another flight to yet another city, the Irish staff had whittled its high school senior wish list that usually runs two dozen deep to five.
Once October hit the halfway point, Notre Dame had hosted official visits for four of the five. It secured verbal commitments from two.
In early October, the Irish received a commitment from Bonzie Colson, a 6-5, 210-pound, three-star swingman from St. Andrews, a college prep school in Barrington, R.I. He joins a class that includes Martin Geben, a 6-9, 220-pound, four-star native of Lithuania who plays at St. Maria Goretti School in Hagerstown, Md.
Colson and Geben both visited Notre Dame during what has become a key recruiting tool for the Irish program – a home football weekend. Prospects generally arrive in town late Thursday night or Friday morning before a full day of academic meetings. They'll then see campus, play some pickup and jump in with both feet for the plethora of football-related activities – pep rallies, dinner with the basketball coach at a local steak house, some more pickup Saturday morning before tailgating and the game.
By the time it all ends Sunday morning, usually with a visit to the office of the head coach, prospects are absolutely exhausted but also fully aware of what the Notre Dame experience entails. It's something special, but also something that's not for everyone.
Colson, who shot 54 percent from the field, averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds and earned Gatorade player of the year honors in Rhode Island as a junior, visited Florida State and Pittsburgh prior to seeing Notre Dame the weekend of Sept. 27, which coincided with the football game against Oklahoma.
Just over a week later, he was Irish.
“It was just a great fit for me,” he said. “I love Coach (Mike) Brey. I love their style of play. It's a family type of atmosphere on that campus with great tradition.
“I just wanted to be a part of that.”
So did Geben, who visited Notre Dame the weekend of Aug. 31, which featured the football season opener against Temple. How big of a trip was it for Geben? His parents still live in Lithuania but accompanied their son to Northern Indiana. For Geben's father, it was the second time in the United States. It was his mother's first visit.
Everything from the weather to the campus to playing pickup with current players went so well for Geben that he committed less than a week later.
“It was just such a cool experience,” he said. “I felt comfortable with everything about the school. The visit just went great.”
Two other players on the Irish short list who made official visits this fall to Notre Dame were forward Devin Robinson (Christchurch, Va.) and center Michael Humphrey (Phoenix). Robinson visited the weekend of Sept. 21 while Humphrey visited the same Oklahoma weekend as Colson.
Humphrey, who stands 6-9, also plays quarterback for his high school team. He played in a game late Friday, took a red-eye flight from Arizona to the Midwest and spent the weekend on campus. He eliminated Notre Dame from his recruiting equation the following week.
The only player on Notre Dame's final wish list who didn't visit this fall was forward Reid Travis (Minneapolis), who dropped Notre Dame for various reasons.
Colson, Geben Fit Mold
Though Colson and Geben own different skill sets – one's more of a glue guy who's willing to do anything it takes to win while the other could be a fixture as a low-post presence – their recruiting stories are similar.
Both are not among the nation's recruiting elite, but each was targeted early in the process by Notre Dame, a program that has made its recruiting bones by identifying recruits who fit all the school has to offer regardless of class rank or the number of stars next to their names.
Working through a solid junior season in what is annually among the nation's toughest prep league basketball conferences (New England Prep School Athletic Council), Colson held a number of mid-major offers by spring. But the first high-major school to recruit him was Notre Dame.
Colson then blew up on the summer AAU circuit when other big-name programs – Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Temple – looked to get involved in his recruitment.
All the while, though, Notre Dame remained. The more calls and correspondence he received, the more Colson thought about the first big-time program to consider him a big-time player: Notre Dame.
“They outrecruited everyone from the start,” St. Andrews coach Michael Hart said. “I've been waiting to send a kid to Notre Dame since I started coaching here (20 years ago).
“I feel like Bonzie hit the jackpot.”
Geben averaged 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as a prep junior. That effort earned him most valuable player honors in the Baltimore Catholic League, the same conference that delivered to Notre Dame senior point guard Eric Atkins (Mount Saint Joseph), who will be a rare three-time team captain this season.
During his official visit, Geben listened as Brey compared his skills to Jack Cooley and Luke Harangody – two players also not on many teams' recruiting radar coming out of high school but two players who developed into first team All-Big East talents.
“That,” Geben said, “was pretty cool.”
Many wondered when Notre Dame made its summer move to the ACC how the new home would impact Irish recruiting. Brey has long insisted he still wanted to hit hard the Interstate 95 corridor that runs from Boston to Washington, but he and his staff also are open to venturing into new areas – the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Virginia.
Being in the ACC immediately made Notre Dame that much more attractive to Geben.
“I still might have looked at Notre Dame in the Big East, but the ACC is the best league of college basketball,” Geben said.
Colson and Geben will sign their respective national letters of intent in mid-November during the early signing period. Their commitments leave Notre Dame with one scholarship to offer current high school seniors or a possible college transfer.
That number may change following the 2013-14 season. Senior guard Jerian Grant has an additional year of eligibility after sitting out his freshman year, but he could bypass a fifth year for the chance at the NBA.