Dec. 10, 2014
Steve Vasturia first captured the attention of University of Notre Dame men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey by what he did without the ball.
“He moves without the ball beautifully,” Brey said of Vasturia. “He understands how to move without it as well as anybody on our team–and maybe he’s the best. He’s a great cutter, he screens for people and he knows when to feed the post. He helps us flow.
“There’s a basketball IQ that is beyond his years, always, and that’s one of the things I loved about him when I saw him in Orlando in the AAU. He’s cutting, he’s moving without the ball, he’s rotating over and taking charges.”
Tuesday night in a 93-67 home-court victory against Mount St. Mary’s, Vasturia caught the attention of Brey, and most likely every Fighting Irish opponent, by what he did with the ball.
Vasturia opened eyes when he connected for a career-high 19 points on a perfect shooting night. The 6-foot-5-inch sophomore guard from Medford, N.J. was seven of seven shooting, including three for three behind the arc–and he swished both free-throw attempts.
Next up for the No. 25 Irish (9-1) and Vasturia is the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Florida State (4-4) Saturday. Tip-off is 8 p.m. EST at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion.
Last season Vasturia was thrown into the fire when the Irish were hit with personnel issues. He played in 27 games, starting 12. Vasturia finished his freshman season with an average of 5.0 points a game, shooting 35 percent (41 of 117). He was 27 of 82 (33 percent) from three-point range, and hit 68 percent of his free throws (26 of 38).
This season Vasturia is the one doing the torching. He is averaging 9.1 points a game and has seen his shooting percentages skyrocket to 53 percent for overall field-goal shooting (31 of 59), 44 percent for three-point shooting (16 of 36), and 87 percent for free-throw shooting (13 of 15).
“He’s a pretty mentally tough guy,” Brey said of Vasturia weathering the challenge of playing against elite Atlantic Coast Conference competition as a freshman.
Vasturia’s shooting percentage surge this season has helped the Irish rank No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage at 55.8 percent.
“The numbers say that (Vasturia) should shoot it,” Brey said after Vasturia incinerated the Mount St. Mary’s defense. “I love the fact he’s hunting it and he’s even driving it a little bit more and being aggressive. He’s going to get fouled if he gets in there and he’s almost automatic from the foul line. This was a process that we started about 10 days ago … `Stop playing so safe. Go for it a little bit.’ We’ve created a monster.”
Vasturia concentrated on developing his game to be more of a key contributor–and he has earned hearing his name called out when the lights dim and the spotlights get turned on at Purcell Pavilion for the starting lineups.
“I just wanted to get stronger and be more aggressive,” Vasturia said. “I’ve been trying to build confidence game by game, and that’s really been developing. It’s a testament to my teammates and coaches, having confidence in me, so I can feed off of that.”
On Tuesday Vasturia’s aggressiveness offensively lit up the scoreboard. When Mount St. Mary’s closed to 22-18, Vasturia ignited a stunning 30-4 Irish run. He was a nightmare match-up. He swished back-to-back pull-up threes, he slashed across the lane, he ran the fast break.
“It’s about taking the opportunities I get and trying to take advantage of them,” Vasturia said. “Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson get us a lot of open shots, and they have the confidence in us to knock it down. It’s my job to make those shots, so I’m trying to work on it and be more aggressive.”
Grant said Vasturia’s emergence as an offensive force has had a profound impact on the Irish explosiveness. The Irish are 10th in the nation, averaging 85.1 points a game.
“It’s great,” Grant said of Vasturia’s improved scoring punch. “Everybody is a threat on the floor. To have Steve getting into a great rhythm, teams are going to have to guard everybody on the court. They can’t cheat. Steve worked hard in the summer, and it’s obviously showing. He’s shooting better than 50 percent. That’s impressive.”
Brey thinks last season’s experience helped Vasturia’s game. There were exceptional moments for Vasturia, who came off the bench to score nine points as the Irish stunned Duke to win their first ACC game. Last season also included a 13-point performance at No. 1 Syracuse in a narrow loss in hostile surroundings. But there were also rough patches in the season.
“Last year we weren’t winning a whole lot, but the positive was Steve was getting playing time,” Brey said. “Guys got experience. Even though it didn’t turn out to be wins, they were more experienced to step forward this year because they were thrown in the mix. They probably weren’t quite ready for it at times, but I remember Steve Vasturia at Syracuse on a Monday night playing great as a freshman, and that was early in the ACC season.
“It was only a matter of time for Steve because his basketball IQ is more that of a guy who is a senior. It was just a matter of getting a little stronger, getting a little older and being more aggressive. He just really knows how to play this game, and he was really well coached by Speedy Morris at Saint Joe’s Prep.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent