Notre Dame is facing a challenging season with a new face and a mostly new roster. Micah Shrewsberry fielded questions about that during the ACC Tipoff on Oct. 25 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Alongside him were Kebba Njie, a transfer who came over with Shrewsberry from Penn State, and Matt zona, one of the few returnees on this year’s Irish.
Here is what they had to say:
Zona on the program's transition
“I’m really excited about it. I think we’ve got a really good, hungry group of guys who want to compete, want to win. We’re going to show that. We’re going to try and be the hardest working team in the country, the hardest praying team and the toughest team in the country, and with that will come results.
So we’re really excited to get this thing going.”
Zona on helping the new players get accimilated to Notre Dame
“I joke about it that I grew up pretty quickly. I played a lot of guys who were fifth- and sixth-year seniors last year, and now I’m only 21, but I’m the older statesman of the team. But just trying to help these guys with anything I can around campus, the day-to-day grind of being a Notre Dame student-athlete I think is something unique compared to other schools around the country.
So helping them as best I can navigate that is something I’ve tried to do.”
Zona on what would make this season a success
“I think at the end of the day, you have to be the last team standing in our minds to be a successful season. Our goal is to play deep into March and cut down the net. Anything short of that would be doing ourselves a disservice.
But along the way, there’s a lot of lessons to be learned, and we’re just really excited to get this thing going.”
Zona on what he worked on during the offseason
“I’ve tried to get myself in better shape to be able to handle the full workload of an ACC schedule. And.
Along with that, trying to become more of a complete player, whether that be becoming a better shooter, better passer, better dribbler, and defending the basketball.”
Zona on the difference between Shrewsberry's and Mike Brey's offensive approaches
“I think they both have a lot of similarities and differences. Coach Brey maybe was more focused on vibes, if that’s a good way to put it, but it was all about guys just playing with a ton of freedom.
Where we do have a ton of freedom in Coach Shrew’s offense, but it’s controlled freedom and doing it correctly, and I think that’s the main takeaway I’ve gotten.”
Njie on why he followed Shrewsberry from Penn State
“I really followed Coach Shrewsberry because I thought that he believed in me since my freshman year and before that. His belief in me made me believe in myself, and I really trust in where he can take me. “
Njie on differences in Shrewsberry's style between Penn State and Notre Dame
“I think the way that we played at Penn State is pretty similar to the way that we are playing right now. We don’t have a Jalen Pickett, bootie ball guy kind of on our team right now, but as far as being able to shoot the 3 and playing together and moving the ball, I feel like a lot of that is the same. “
Njie on the recent transitions in his life
“I feel like although there has been a lot of transition in my life, I am very comfortable with it, and I’ve gotten adjusted to just the new lifestyle I’m kind of living with more academic school – academically rigorous school that is going to challenge me on the court and off the court.”
Njie on what he likes about Zona
“I love that Matt can shoot the ball. He’s a very strong, physical forward, but his ability to really shoot the ball is one thing that I really do love about that.”
Shrewsberry on the ACC legacy of coaches
“I think that the ACC has such a phenomenal basketball tradition. I think that’s what stands out, first and foremost.
You look back over the years, it’s a basketball league. The amount of players that have come through, but the amount of coaches, and there has been turnover here recently. You think about whether it’s (former Duke coach Mike) Krzyzewski, whether it’s (former North Carolina coach Roy) Williams, whether it’s (former Syracuse coach Jim) Boeheim, all those coaches that have made a change, but there’s still a lot of great coaches that are here.
Obviously you start with Tony Bennett and the success that they’ve had at Virginia; you think about Leonard Hamilton, who’s still a pioneer of college basketball; and especially for a young Black coach like me, Leonard Hamilton is somebody that we’ve all tried to strive to see what he’s done.
Then you have other coaches that are not as recognized quite yet as great coaches, but like I know how good of a coach Brad Brownell is, right, from his teams at Pacific and how they played, and now him gaining that experience in the NBA, I know he’s going to have Georgia Tech rolling here pretty soon.
Mike Young, who anytime I get a chance to sit down and talk to Mike Young, I sit down and talk to him because he’s a phenomenal offensive basketball coach.
I don’t watch a lot of college basketball to pick things up, but I’ll watch Mike Young’s teams play because he is such a great offensive coach that there are things that he’s doing that we can pick up on.
And then obviously I didn’t mention him at the start, and he doesn’t go with anybody else, but Coach (Jim) Larranaga and what he’s been able to do at Miami, going to the Final Four last year. I’ve known him for a long time. I worked with his son Jay with the Boston Celtics. He’s a fantastic man and a fantastic coach.”
Shrewsberry on whether being the Notre Dame coach is surreal
“It’s very surreal for me. It’s obviously a full-circle moment. I’ve said this many times, and I talked about it at my press conference, that 2005, I was the head coach of Indiana University South Bend, and driving home – I came straight up Ironwood and made a right turn at the gas station at Martin’s and went to my house, but I would always see campus, and I would always go there and tailgate for football games.
My wife would take my son, who’s a freshman at Notre Dame now. She’d go and walk him around, push him around in the stroller around the lakes. Like this is surreal for me.
At that time in 2005, I wasn’t thinking about, ‘Hey, in 2023, you’re going to be the head coach at Notre Dame’, but that wasn’t like a goal of mine. It’s something that the opportunity arose, and it was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
Shrewsberry on why he felt it was the right time to come to Notre Dame
“For us, we’re a program that’s really built on development. I don’t think about anybody’s expectations but our own as a program. So all we’re focused on is getting better every single day and improving every single day.
I want guys that fit Notre Dame, and I want guys that fit me as a coach. When you find that, that’s when we’re going to have success, and we have it.
An opportunity for a player like Matt Zona or J.R. Konieczny or a Tony Sanders to stick around and stick this out told me a lot about them as people, as players. But then to bring in a Kebba Njie, a Tay Davis, Julian Roper, our freshman class, those guys fit Notre Dame, but they fit me as a coach, and it’s not going to handcuff us from having success early and sustaining success in the future.
That’s all I’m looking for is guys that fit me, and these guys are proving it every single day. Like we’re going to be tough, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be nasty, but we’re going to be fun to watch because of the style of play that we want to play offensively.
I love doubt. I love people that have a chip on their shoulder just like these guys do. I love being an underdog. I’ve been counted out my whole life. This ain’t nothing new right now.
You might get us, but you’re not leaving without any bruises or any flaws. Like it’s not going to be easy.
I said it earlier, if anybody thinks they’re coming up into Notre Dame and it’s going to be a cake walk, they’ve got something different coming.”