Irish Spring: How Notre Dame is Becoming a Basketball School

From Joe Montana to recent Pro Football Hall of Fame selections Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown, South Bend, Indiana is a mecca for college football.

It was once considered by most as the number one destination for a player and coach when it comes to the gridiron. I mean even Jesus resides on the building that overlooks the north end zone at Notre Dame Stadium. And while the heavens shine down so brightly on this cathedral-like atmosphere, there is Purcell Pavillion, a very nondescript structure that, although having a dome, was once just a place where students play basketball. Sounds like more of a recreation center based on how the picture is painted right?

Purcell Pavillion is by no means a rec center; in fact, after a $26 million renovation in 2009, it is a beautiful facility that plays host to one of todays best college basketball programs.


Notre Dame boasts perhaps the most successful combined men’s and women’s basketball programs of any institution in the country–whether the teams are judged by combined Associated Press rankings, combined victories, combined winning percentage or combined NCAA graduation rates. And while many think that the success of these programs is only based on recent events, they should take a step back and then keep reading.

Notre Dame has had more than 50 of its players make an NBA roster. Names like LaPhonso Ellis, Troy Murphy, current New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams and John Paxon, who is most remembered for his clutch shooting with the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. However there are three players that our young readers may not readily know about.

David Rivers (1984-88) was one the most courageous players in Fighting Irish history, so much so that he was named the teams MVP for four consecutive seasons and was a team co-captain his sophomore, junior, and senior years under famed head coach Digger Phelps. Even as a sophomore, Rivers led Notre Dame to a Sweet 16 appearance and ranks in the top 10 in the school’s record books in scoring, assists and steals. Although David would get drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 1988 Draft, his NBA career did not go according to plan. However he would take his talents overseas and become one of the most decorated players in European Basketball history.  Rivers would lead powerhouse Olympiakos to its first European Championship and the team’s first Triple Crown by winning all three major championships in the same year (1997). He was recognized with MVP Honors for all three championships, was named National Player of the Year and was voted by the European media and sports journalists as European Player of the Year in 1997, making Rivers the first American ever to receive European basketball’s highest honor in 50 years.

Adrian Dantley (1973-76), one of basketballs most prolific scorers and one of the greatest players in college basketball history, was also a member of the Fighting Irish. He was an unstoppable force as he used his 6-foot-5, compact frame to uproot defenders while consistently posting up on the block. Dantley was so clever at drawing fouls he earned more points at the free-throw line than seven of the NCAAs Top 10 career scorers. He would average an incredible 30.4 points in his sophomore year and ranked No. 2 in the nation. In his junior season he would score 28.6 points per game and be named National Player of the Year.  

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If social media would have been available in the 1970s, Austin Carr (1968-71) would have broken Twitter on a nightly basis. He put up shots like his life depended on it and, in his defense, he made most of them. Carrs offensive brilliance resulted in three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids for the Irish. That enabled him to establish several scoring records, including highest average (41.3), and single game performance (61 points vs Ohio University in the 1970 first round). Of the six 50-point games in the tournaments history, Carr produced three.  

So if you’re reading this and saying yeah, but that was a really long time ago, you need to get to know current Irish sensation Jerian Grant.

Grant, now a fifth-year senior, is making more than a name for himself, being selected to a number of All-American teams, earning the ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player and now has his team in position to advance to the Final Four (with the Kentucky Wildcats powerhouse standing in their way). He is the only player in the country who scores at least 16 points per game, shoots 48 percent from the floor and dishes out six assists a night.

Make no mistake- Notre Dame has been, and always will be, a football school. But history will look back upon this sliver in time where that trend was temporarily shifted. The Irish are staring at an opportunity for its second Final Four appearance. The first one came in 1978. But to get there, Grant must lead his squad past the juggernaut of undefeated Kentucky, which is coming off of one of the most scary and dominating performances in tournament history as they doubled-up a West Virginia opponent 78-39. Yet Grant wasn’t short on confidence when asked about the Wildcats. He says of a match up with the long, defensively gifted Kentucky squad: 

“Offensively we can score with the best of them.” 

Notre Dame is caught up in a basketball euphoria that rarely, if ever, has been replicated on campus. And the program has Jerian Grant to thank for it. So before you classify Notre Dame as just another football school that is having a lucky season, remember that it was Irish who did the unthinkable in 1974 when the UCLA dynasty, riding an 88-game winning streak, came to an end.

Maybe the luck of the Irish can make it happen again.  #RESPECT

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