Unlike the NFL, the NBA has not been as kind to former Notre Dame basketball stars. Mike Brey generally has older teams and develops lesser talent than the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, etc. Nevertheless, the Irish currently have three former standouts on NBA rosters, and Golden Domer Daily dives into their 2017 production.
Connaughton was a fan favorite during his tenure at Notre Dame, and should go down in Notre Dame’s ring of honor eventually. Drafted in the 4th of the MLB draft after the conclusion of his junior year at Notre Dame, Connaughton had a decision to make. He decided to sign a pro contract with the Baltimore Orioles and also return for his senior basketball season. That decision turned out to be a good one for the Portland Trail Blazers backup shooting guard. Connaughton was drafted in the 2nd round (#41 overall) after an impressive NBA combine that saw him post the highest max vert (44″) of 2015 and 2nd highest ever.
During Connaughton’s first two seasons with Portland, he was pretty much the end guy the bench averaging under 10 minutes per game. However, in now his third season in the league Connaughton has become a legitimate threat off the bench for the Trail Blazers. He has matched his career guy in games played, is averaging almost 20 minutes per game, and also putting up a career high in points per game at 6.5. Connaughton remains a dangerous three point shooter and gives the Blazers a ton of energy off the bench. This is the only start of what looks like a promising NBA career.
The Washington Wizards drafted Grant in the 1st round (pick 19) of the 2015 draft and immediately traded him to the Knicks. In the off-season after his rookie year, he was traded to the Bulls, where he is now a key role player in Chicago. Last year, he started 28 games while shooting a solid .366 from outside and averaging 5.9 points per game. He was also a near 90% shooter at the free throw line.
Much like Connaughton, Grant’s third year has been his most successful. His minutes have gone up considerably, and with that so has his production (8.3 points and 4.8 assists per game). Grant will likely never become a constant starter in the league, but he has a chance to carve out a nice career.
Jackson left Notre Dame early to pursue a career in the NBA to no surprise to Notre Dame fans. He was projected to go in the mid to late first round, but stunningly fell to the middle of the 2nd round. So far, his decision to leave Notre Dame early looks questionable as he has only appearred in a total 17 games in two seasons and has been traded once. Jackson has spent the better part of two seasons in the NBA’s G league, but Grant and Connaughton didn’t show much until year three either. Maybe Jackson can follow down the same path as his former Irish teammates.
Updates on the Rest…
Notre Dame had two seniors go undrafted last season in VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia. Vasturia recently signed a contract in Germany after recovering from a broken leg, and Beachem currently plays for the Lakers G-League team. Beachem received draft consideration, but questions about his size and defense didn’t warrant a draft pick. In time, he could become a decent 3 and D player for the right organization.
Zach Auguste signed with the Lakers out of Notre Dame in 2016, but chose to play overseas. After a successful season, Auguste signed a contract with the Miami Heat to play for their summer league team. I was fortunate enough to watch him play down in Las Vegas this past summer, and he played well. Unfortunately, he was one of the team’s last cuts and decided to re-sign with his Greece professional team. Look for Auguste to receive another NBA look this off-season.
Lastly, former Notre Dame star big man, Jack Cooley has bounced around European basketball and United State basketball in somewhat surprising fashion. Cooley went undrafted after four seasons at Notre Dame. He ended up with the Utah Jazz and mainly played in the D-league, but did appear in 16 games with the Jazz. The next two years saw Cooley back in forth between Europe and the D-league, but he found a home with the Sacramento Kings organization in 2017. Cooley only appeared in one game for the Kings in 2017, but stars for the G-league affiliate.
Next up… The Irish in Major League Baseball.