Updated: Jun 11
6’4” Jonathan “JJ” Starling, the multi-faceted New York native, has committed to Notre Dame.
Following a productive high school season with La Lumiere (IN) and an AAU stint this summer on the Nike EYBL circuit with City Rocks (NY), offers continued to pile up for Starling.
The talented combo guard ultimately chose the Fighting Irish over Duke, Northwestern, Syracuse, and Stanford. Expect the USA Basketball Junior National Team minicamp alum to continue his upward trajectory as a senior as La Lumiere participated in the inaugural season of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC), along with seven other prestigious programs located around the country.
In this interview, Starling discussed his decision, his game and insight as to who’s provided some support and inspiration thus far along his journey.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2022 prospect JJ Starling, from Baldwinsville, New York:
Pro Insight: What were you looking for in a college program? What went into the decision?
J.J. Starling: I was looking for the best fit for me. I took into account the players that I would be playing with, the coaches I would be playing under…but, ultimately, it was about making sure the situation was best for me. I would say those were the biggest things.
PI: Did that evolve over time?
JS: I would say I was always looking for a good college in terms of both education and athletic-wise. The schools in my top-five all had that.
PI: Who did you consult with on this decision or was it a personal one?
JS: I talked with a variety of people, but just to hear their advice. I came to this decision on my own. Nobody limited my decisions or told me to go here or there. Like I said, I just came to this decision on my own.
PI: Where have you decided to attend?
JS: I’ve decided to attend the University of Notre Dame.
PI: What separated Notre Dame from the others?
JS: The coaching staff…they reminded me of some of the coaching staffs that I had played for previously. Coach Brey really reminded me of Coach (Jim) Hart (of City Rocks) and Coach Pat (Holmes of La Lumiere) in terms of how he carries himself on the court and how he addresses players. That’s the thing that stood out because I think it’s going to let me feel most comfortable there.
PI: Among the rest of the staff, who also did a good job of connecting with you?
JS: Coach (Ryan) Humphrey for sure…whether it was just checking in on how I’m doing or calling my mom and stuff to make sure she was doing ok. That was important to me as well in that he was not only incorporating me into the decision, but my family. I just really respected that.
PI: Did being in the ACC factor in at all?
JS: The conference aspect didn’t really impact me that much. It really was just a fit thing for me. I didn’t care if it was in the Big Ten, Big 12, or ACC. That said, the ACC is one of the best conferences in college basketball.
PI: Did coming to La Lumiere help familiarize you with Notre Dame’s campus, its culture and the program?
JS: Oh yeah, for sure. Getting a chance to go up there a few times and get a really good feel for the players. Outside of the court, I was able to get a good feel for them. Like I said, I was able to get to know the coaching staff even more.
PI: Were there any current players there that you were able to connect with?
JS: Yeah, actually, there were, but one in particular was Blake Wesley, who’s a freshman there. We just really connected. I became really close with him. He’s someone that I can see myself playing with.
PI: On your official visit, what did they show you and what was their overall message?
JS: On the official visit, there really wasn’t too much they could show me because I had been there many times before, but they did show me more buildings and where I would be staying. I did meet with a couple of professors. Their message to me was I would just come in and do what I do now. Be like a scoring facilitator and stuff like that.
PI: What do you hope to bring to Notre Dame, now that you’ve gotten that decision off of your chest?
JS: I want to bring my high-level scoring, my three-level scoring, my mid-range, my three that I’ve been incorporating. I feel like that part of my game has been underestimated, I guess. The other aspect of my game that I’m looking to bring is my defense. It’s the part of my game that I’m trying to take to another level.
PI: You have the length, athleticism, and IQ. For fans who may never have seen you play, outside of, perhaps, a mixtape, how would describe your game and how has it evolved since your freshman year?
JS: I wouldn’t say my game is too finesse, but I am definitely more comfortable coming off of ball-screens. I’ve always been a three-level scorer, but I am a little more efficient at each level. I’ve worked with Coach Pat and Coach (Brian) Tonino on finishing and doing different shooting drills. I’ve become better at that and I’ve just become more mature on the court. I think my decision-making has gotten a lot better, in terms of making reads. I make a lot smarter decisions than I used to. I feel like my teammates trust me with the ball and I trust myself with the ball a lot more.
PI: Even at 13, I always thought your court vision itself was high-level, but do you think it’s been a matter of making more efficient passes and cutting down on the riskier ones?
JS: Yeah, I think it’s a matter of not forcing anything. Trying to make an intelligent decision with each possession.
PI: Last year was both an unusual year and a transitional one, both with COVID and coming to La Lumiere. What do you hope to bring to La Lu this season? You guys obviously play a very competitive schedule.
JS: Some of the same things that I actually hope to bring to Notre Dame. I’m being recruited to score the ball. That’s one thing the coaches have gone over is just how efficient I am with the ball and how I can more effectively and aggressively score the ball. That’s something that I’ve taken to heart, especially with the schedule that we have this year. We play a very challenging schedule and so I have to constantly be aware of being efficient and careful with the ball. Really stick to what you do best. For me, that’s scoring, facilitating and working on defense.
PI: Do you think that by acclimating yourself last year to La Lu and the challenges of playing both in practice and in games that you’ll be able to take your game to another level this year and then ultimately be more prepared to play as a freshman at Notre Dame? No disrespect at all to Baldwinsville, but it’s simply a different level of player you’re competing against and with at La Lumiere.
JS: Oh, yeah, it’s just totally different levels to it and absolutely no disrespect either to Baldwinsville, but the teams we face and even play against high level athletes in practice and games are just different at La Lu.
PI: Who are some NBA players that you’ve modeled your game after?
JS: It would definitely be Bradley Beal and Devin Booker. Just the way they efficiently score the ball coming off of screens, how they do on pull-ups and they’re not one dimensional.
PI: When you were a kid or maybe younger, who did you grow up liking? I seem to remember someone else.
JS: It was definitely Kyrie. I liked how he handled the ball and could finish off the glass so incredibly. He’s so skilled and creative.
PI: Can you tell the audience a little about yourself away from the court?
JS: When I walk around campus, you will always see me smiling. I try to bring a positive energy to any room, even if it’s maybe not the most likely time. I try to make everyone’s day. I try to take pride in my schoolwork and make sure that that is at a high-level. I’m taking AP classes right now.
PI: What do you get from your mother and father, respectively?
JS: They are my rock. They are the reason why I am who I am. They drive me. Off the court, they’ve taught me so many lessons as well. One that has stuck by me is “the ball is going to stop bouncing at some point.” That's why I take such pride in my schoolwork and being well-rounded. Even if I am blessed enough to play in the NBA, I'm not gonna be able to play forever. That's why it was important to me that I have a backup plan and being smart.
PI: How do you think you’ve grown as a person and as a player since going to La Lumiere?
JS: I have been taught to be a leader, even on days that I don't feel like being a leader. I need to keep a positive outlook even on days when I'm feeling a lot of stress about this decision or other things. Coach Pat has really helped me work on focusing my attitude in a positive direction. I'm positive even on days when it's not required to be positive.
PI: You’re able to block out stuff more effectively?
JS: Yeah, exactly, to not let one thing mess up my day. It used to.
PI: Have you become more of a leader since arriving on campus?
JS: Yeah, definitely. I'm walking around campus with a positive attitude and trying to be the best person I can be. I know that I have to show that, but it is also just the type of person I am. On the court, I feel like I'm much more vocal than I ever was. In the past I was seen as a leader, but I really wasn't very vocal. Last year and this year, I was taught how to be more vocal and lead not only by example.
PI: Did some of the things that appealed to you about La Lumiere also appeal to you about Notre Dame, in terms of high-level basketball, high-level academics, coaches who care about you, etc.?
JS: Yeah, both La Lu and Notre Dame both share some traits. In Coach Brey, like Coach Pat, it was just a coach that I felt comfortable with. I think the comfort level and connection to both stood out.
PI: Any final message to the Notre Dame fan base?
JS: Yeah, one: Go Irish!