Oct. 15, 2015
When the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team trailed Miami by 12 points early in the second half last season, Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey turned to Fighting Irish sixth man V.J. Beachem.
At 6-foot-8, Beachem was a match-up nightmare on the perimeter for the Hurricanes.
Shortly after checking into the game, Beachem drilled back-to-back 3’s to help the Irish slice their double-digit deficit to 48-40.
When Beachem fired off his third and last shot of the second half, it gave the Irish a 55-52 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish on the way to a 75-70 victory in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Beachem finished with 13 points against Miami, and gave the Irish a boost of confidence that would be critical for a team that would finish 32-6 and hoist the ACC Tournament trophy.
Confidence, though, would not be a constant companion for Beachem through the rest of the 2014-15 campaign.
In Notre Dame’s next game, Beachem was 0-of-7 from three-point range against Virginia Tech.
Through the Miami game, Beachem connected on 29-of-56 shots from 3-point range, a sizzling 51.8 percent. Following the Miami game, Beachem hits just 13 of his next 45 attempts (28.9 percent) from three-point range.
There were still major contributions from Beachem – 11 points in an 81-78 overtime victory against North Carolina State, a game that Beachem sent to overtime with a putback with 1.8 seconds left.
Brey is looking for more significant contributions from Beachem, who finished the season average 5.9 points a game. Brey had the Fort Wayne, Indiana native play on a collegiate all-star team that toured Europe in August. It was a brilliant move by Brey. Beachem built up his game, and he returned as a force the Irish are counting on in 2015-16.
“The first practice, V.J. attacked it with a vengeance,” Brey says of Beachem shaking off the end to last season and being ready to emerge as a leader for the Irish this season. “He was ready to go, showing, ‘I’m through this. Let’s go.’
“He has come back like many of the upperclassmen we’ve had, knowing we need him to be a starter and a key guy, and through the first five or six practices, I’ve been very proud of what he’s delivering.”
Brey said that he expects Beachem to start for the Irish, and put last season behind him. “The one thing he’s never wavered in has been the shooting part of it,” Brey says of Beachem’s game. “I think March, the moment, knocked him back on his heels.
“Through everything we’ve done this summer, he’s shooting the ball well, he’s confident ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ there has never been any wavering on my part to not have him playing as a starter right away. I think he needed to see that from me, as well as the summer tour we sent him on. I said, ‘We need you, man. That’s why I’m sending you there, and you’re going to start.’ You just feel a young man can move and grow past it, with the help of his coach.
“He was embarrassed about it, but I was like, we’re not going to confession. I know we’re a Catholic school, but we’re not going to confession every day. That’s over. I need you to be a guy like you were in the Miami game here, when you brought us back, or the tip-in at N.C. State. I think he would be a guy who would feel bad about it. We got rid of that quickly in our spring workouts.”
Beachem says he gained a lot from his European tour games.
“I just wasn’t knocking down shots,” Beachem says of last year. “Sometimes, you go through a slump. It just happened to be at a bad time last year. I’ve been able to work on it and bounce back.
“I tried to erase that right away. The trip really helped me out with that, going there and playing my game. I tried to carry that over into the pre-season. These practices that we’ve had so far, I’ve been able to regain my confidence and get back to knocking down shots.”
According to Beachem, he regained his confidence in games against the Chinese and Nigerian national teams. He focused on rebounding, and on driving to the hoop.
“Defensive rebounding is something that coach Brey talked to me about, as soon as the season ended last year,” Beachem say. “It’s something that was talked about a lot when I went overseas to play this summer. I’ve tried to carry that over to the pre-season, and continue to play my game offensive. I definitely want to help more defensively.”
Zach Auguste says that Beachem has the presence of a leader.
“V.J.’s confidence has really developed and matured and grown,” Auguste says. “He’s shooting the heck out of the ball. He’s very confident. He’s knocking down open shots, he’s creating open space, he’s driving, he’s dishing, he’s doing everything more confidently. I think that’s something he’s always had, but just developing that confidence is what we really needed from him.”
“V.J. has been really aggressive,” Jackson says. “He’s taking all of his open shots, and he’s creating shots for himself. He’s playing like and elite player, so I’m very excited to have him. He’s also playing very well on defense. I’m excited for him to be stepping into this new role.
“When he’s aggressive, it makes the whole team better. When V.J. is aggressive, it raises the energy level for all of us. Certain guys can have that effect, and he’s one of them. He’s making shots, he’s driving to the hole, he’s finishing plays, he’s rebounding the ball like we need him to. He’s doing a lot of things. He really helps our team. I think we got longer on defense with V.J. in there.”
Beachem says that he learned a lot from Connaughton and Grant.
“The two guys I was behind last year, I learned so much from them,” Beachem says. “Watching them now at the next level has been great, thinking I went up against them for two years. Going against two pros every day, you can only get better from that.”
Brey is excited what a more aggressive Beachem can do. If Beachem drives more, he will be fouled more, and putting a shooter like Beachem on the line means more points for the Irish.
Brey also wants Beachem hitting the boards.
“Here’s the thing that I told V.J. to concentrate on,” Brey says. “I know he’s really sticking his nose in there when he’s rebounding. That is my barometer. When he’s on the defensive board ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ and he has led us in rebounding a couple of times this week ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ when he is flying up and getting rebounds, that’s when I know he is in the fight.”