V.J. Beachem, patient and unselfish, waited until this, his junior season, to become Notre Dame’s starting small forward.
Not everyone could hold out that long. Some would transfer. More would gripe.
Not Beachem. The New Haven graduate somehow found the good in his situation.
"Because the two guys I was behind (Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton) I learned so much from," Beachem said. "Watching them at the next level (the NBA) has been great, just thinking I went up against them every day for two years. Going against two pros every day (in practice), you can only get better from that."
So it would seem.
As the Irish (7-2) prepare to face Indiana (8-3) at the Crossroads Classic on Saturday, they are reaping the benefits of Beachem’s apprenticeship.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pounder is averaging 12 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and in a career-best 31.8 minutes per game, he’s posting his lowest-ever turnover rate.
"Encouraging," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We have got to continue to develop him, because he’s kind of the newest of the guys joining the party as a starter."
Beachem has played inside before, but being used in a bigger frontcourt with the 6-5, 225-pound Bonzie Colson at power forward and 6-10, 240-pound returning starter Zach Auguste in the middle saves wear and tear defensively and allows Beachem’s perimeter skills to shine on offense.
After making 42 of 101 3-pointers last season, when he averaged 14.6 minutes, Beachem has been even more prolific a starter, opening this year with 26 makes in 60 3-point tries.
"Coach talks to me all the time about making consecutive 3s," Beachem said. "Off-the-ball movement is something we talked about a lot. The cut will sometimes open another shot. When Zach Auguste makes some great decisions on the block, it really makes the game easy for us all."
Relatively easy, anyway.
The truth is nothing has come as easily for Notre Dame as it did last year, when Grant – now a backup guard for the New York Knicks – pushed the Irish to a 32-win season that ended in the Elite Eight. That dream run, unlike anything seen in South Bend in years, faded to the background last month when the Irish came in sixth at the AdvoCare Invitational in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. A team ranked 19th in the preseason fell out of the rankings after losses to Monmouth and Alabama.
"We’re trying to figure ourselves out," Brey said. "It was good to get wins (Dec. 2 and 8) against two good teams (Illinois and Stony Brook)."
Beachem had nine points in the 84-79 win at Illinois and 14 points and five rebounds in the 86-61 win over Stony Brook.
What’s changed for him?
"Putting the ball on the ground more, driving it a little more," Beachem said. "Last year I didn’t drive pretty much at all. Also, I’ve been looking to attack as much as I can.
"Driving opens my shot on the perimeter even more when I get in the lane. If I’m driving and shooting the 3, defenders have to adjust for both."
After summer classes were over, Beachem went to Europe with a team of U.S. collegians and played in France and Italy against the national teams of China and Nigeria, which Brey felt broadened his outlook.
"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,’ and there has never been any wavering on my part to not have him start," Brey said.
In regard to how Beachem can build on his solid start to the season as the Irish get ready for Atlantic Coast Conference play, he said he must constantly remind himself of the importance of the team hearing his voice.
"Especially to the younger guys," Beachem said. "Having a great voice, coming to work every day locked in, even if we are not having a hard practice, and being locked into film and things like that go a long way."