This Notre Dame captain looks like Kirk

Irish junior guard Cormac Ryan, who impressed Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, resembles former Bulls guard Hinrich.

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Irish guard Cormac Ryan transferred from Stanford.

Robert Franklin/AP

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With his vampire-pale skin, jet-black mop top and distinctive, game-worn nose, Cormac Ryan bears more than a passing resemblance to ex-Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. 

Even the way the Stanford transfer covers the court for Notre Dame, displaying versatility and toughness for the fast-improving Irish, recalls the former Kansas star of two decades ago. 

All backcourt partner Prentiss Hubb knows is that Ryan is a gamer. 

“Cormac is a big-time player,” Hubb said of the 6-5 Ryan. “He can hit shots all over the court. He just had to find his rhythm.”

His sole season in Palo Alto limited by a lingering ankle injury and later hernia surgery, Ryan averaged 8.7 points on only 33% shooting for a 15-16 Cardinal team. In the summer of 2019, the New York native put his name in the transfer portal. 

“I’m a ballplayer,” Ryan told the South Bend Tribune after landing at Notre Dame in 2019. “For me, Stanford wasn’t a good fit basketball-wise.”

Fully recovered after sitting out last season under transfer rules, Ryan has started 14 of 18 games while averaging 31 minutes for the 9-10 Irish. He has boosted his averages to 10.3 points, four rebounds and 2.7 assists while pushing his shooting percentage close to 39%, but he has shown his value in more subtle ways, as well.

Ryan stepped on a Miami player’s foot early in a key road win Jan. 23 but still gutted out 23 minutes against the Hurricanes. He missed the next game, a one-sided home loss to Virginia Tech, but returned with a 19-point outing on the road against Pittsburgh. 

Then came Feb. 9 and a breakout game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. If not for Ryan’s 21-point first half en route to a career high of 28, there’s no way Notre Dame would’ve been able to claw back from an early 15-point deficit in a season-defining victory against Duke. 

“Sensational” was Mike Krzyzewski’s one-word review of Ryan’s first half. College basketball’s career coaching wins leader suggested his Blue Devils might have been caught off guard by Ryan’s athletic ability. 

“Ryan went by us a couple of times,” Krzyzewski said. “We pressured him like he [would pick] up his dribble instead of controlling the dribble. He put the ball on the floor well, which he can do, but he usually is more of a shooter.”

Ryan also drew a key charge in the open court down the stretch as Notre Dame coach Mike Brey notched his sixth career victory over his mentor. But it was a three-pointer that caromed straight up from the back iron that really got Coach K’s attention. 

“He hit the back flange on a three-pointer, and it fell in,” Krzyzewski said. “When you get a shot like that and you’re already playing well, the world is yours. He has good touch, so when he does miss, it still has a chance. He’s a really good player.”

A two-time New England Prep School Athletic Conference player of the year at Milton (Massachusetts) Academy, Ryan spurned Notre Dame out of high school, along with Villanova, Michigan, Northwestern and Florida. 

Now that he’s on campus and contributing, it seems as though Ryan is where he belonged all along.

“The guy was voted a captain,” Brey said. “I think that’s pretty damn powerful right there in how his teammates felt about him. It was only a matter of time. He’s too good a player.”

Ryan gave the Irish another scare when he twisted his ankle early in the Miami rematch — “The way he went down, I thought that was going to be two weeks,” Brey said — but he still found a way to contribute 22 minutes even as his shot deserted him. 

Little by little, he seems to gain confidence and comfort in his new surroundings. 

“It’s good to have games under my belt,” Ryan said. “This team is in a great flow right now. Everyone, myself included, is getting used to playing with each other, and we’re clicking.”

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