Nov. 20, 2014
When University of Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey wanted to make his first substitution during the exhibition games the Fighting Irish played in Italy this summer, the call for V.J. Beachem always rang out.
Beachem answered consistently for the Irish on the foreign tour, and the trust invested in him by Brey and his Irish teammates is being rewarded by Beachem answering the call when the bright lights are turned on for the 2014-2015 season.
A 6-foot-8-inch sophomore forward who played for New Haven (Indiana) High School, Beachem showed Brey and the Irish he’s ready to play a more critical role with a dazzling, career-high 19-point effort Wednesday night against Coppin State.
Notre Dame will be looking for another lift from Beachem Saturday and Sunday, when the Irish play UMass and Providence, respectively, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Beachem put on a shooter’s clinic against Coppin State. He launched three-point daggers from the corner, from the wing, from the top of the key. By the time the final horn sounded in the 104-67 Notre Dame victory, the Irish sharpshooter had 19 points on seven-of-nine shooting, including an exceptional five of six from three-point range. Beachem piled up his 19 points in 18 minutes of court time.
Through three games for the unbeaten Irish, Beachem is averaging 11.7 points a game. He averaged 2.4 points a game last season. He is shooting a torrid 63 percent from three-point range so far ( nine of 14), an exceptional start compared to last season’s 26 percent shooting from three-point range (11 of 42).
“That’s what I wanted to accomplish in Italy,” Brey said of building Beachem up to be an impact player off the bench. “V.J., when I subbed, he was the only guy going. I wanted him to feel like, ‘You are the first guy off the bench.’ I probably even said to him in Italy, ‘We kind of have six starters, V.J.’ I love that he’s rising up and shooting it with confidence. He’s always had a great stroke.”
Brey said Beachem was a difference-maker for the Irish in Italy against the best team the Irish faced, winning the game for Notre Dame. Critical to Beachem’s development was not only Brey giving Beachem a chance to build his confidence, but also for the other Irish players to build confidence in Beachem.
“He’s on the blue (reserve) team a lot, and he’s the main voice against the white shirts, and there’s days he lights them up,” Brey said of Beachem. “I think the challenge of playing against (Pat) Connaughton and (Jerian) Grant every day, and then he comes over and plays with them, has really helped him.
“I think what helps him is when he comes into the game, Jerian and Pat are usually in there, and they almost kind of pat him on the back and say, ‘Here we go, baby, we’ll get you some looks.’ When your two main guys are patting you on the back, that gives you confidence when you’re a young guy.”
Grant said having a tall, long athletic player who can come off the bench and rip up an opponent from the perimeter or inside is valuable to the Irish effort, and he’s seen Beachem step up his game.
“I think what has changed is his confidence and aggressiveness,” Grant said about Beachem. “He isn’t turning down any shots and that is what we want from him. The coaches have preached to him that he needs to be aggressive and when he gets a look to take it. He’s one of the best shooters on the team. I know one game last year, he hit a big three, so he has it in him and we’re going to need it.”
Beachem said he’s comfortable with being a player who can come in the game at any point and produce.
“I’ve fully embraced it,” Beachem said of his role. “I’m just trying to come off the bench with great energy every night and try to add something new to the team. I’ve been watching the flow of the game, especially what the other team is doing defensively. I’m just trying to come in and make an impact, either offensively or defensively.”
Although his off-season work focused on defense, Beachem also wanted to earn the trust of his teammates as a dependable shooter.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of trust from the guys,” Beachem said. “They trust me more than they did last year. I have their confidence, too, to go right up and shoot the ball.
“I’m just trying to find those gaps in the defense to get a shot up. That’s something that (assistant) Coach (Martin) Ingelsby tells me every day. It’s a matter of knowing the offense better and reading the defense better.”
Irish big man Zach Auguste said Beachem gives the Irish an important weapon off the bench, which isn’t always an easy role to accept.
“You have to give V.J. a lot of credit,” Auguste said. “We were all superstars in high school, so coming in and not starting is a mental challenge for most guys. V.J. has overcome that. It’s not surprising to see him come into a game and give us instant firepower. He does that in practice. He can come in and take over.
“He’s a special player. You don’t see many 6-8 guys, long and athletic, who can shoot the ball like that. He can also give us a presence defensively.”
If V.J. Beachem can continue to be a presence at both ends of the court, it’s another reason the Irish have a better chance to be a major presence in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the post-season in 2015.
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent