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JJ Starling’s Stress Level Was at a “20” Before Choosing Notre Dame

Watching a top 30 recruit from Baldwinsville choose another ACC school was a tough pill to swallow this week. JJ Starling chose Notre Dame from among a finalists group of 5, which included his hometown Syracuse. How did a CNY native who had more official visits to SU than any other school get away? His transfer to an elite high school program in Indiana holds the key.

After a sophomore season in which the 4-star combo guard averaged 29 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals he transferred to La Lumiere in Indiana. Last year Starling averaged 14.9 points and 1.9 assists per game. Why did his scoring drop 14 points per game? Sure, there was some transition to new teammates and opponents. Yes, the Covid winter was strange for everyone. But largely, Starling wasn’t the only focal point of the offense and the competition was better. In May, La Lumiere joined the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference that showcases some of the top basketball programs in the country.

It’s hard to make the case it wasn’t better for Starling to attend LaLu, since it puts a spotlight on its most talented players, places him at a higher level of opponents, and draws significant interest from big programs. Duke was pushing hard on Starling.

But had Starling stayed in CNY, he wouldn’t have landed on a team that was coached by a former Mike Brey staffer. Notre Dame started pressing for Starling back in June of ’20. That’s not quite as early as SU, who reportedly had him on their radar as early as third grade. But Brey made Starling a priority, and LaLu’s head coach also happens to be Patrick Holmes, a Notre Dame graduate and former student manager under Brey. 

A week before Starling chose Notre Dame he spoke about the relentless pressure to make a decision. He told SI.com making a decision before Halloween was the only thing on his mind. “I’m all done with all of that other stuff. I honestly don’t know where I’m leaning, but I’m planning to make my decision in the next two weeks in order to get it done before my season starts. I don’t want all of this stress going into my last year.”

How stressful was it? When asked to rate the stress on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being “agonizing,” Starling laughed and said “20.” Even if that was slightly light-hearted, Starling got serious quickly.

“It’s really that tough. People don’t get it, they think I have an idea about where I’m going, but I’m really still weighing it out. All of the schools on my list are great choices, so it’s just hard.” – Starling to SI.com

Arguably, Starling had one of the toughest decisions of any elite player in the Class of ’22. He had his hometown team that clearly had a bond with him. He had Duke, who boasted the top class in the nation and a locker room he says pressed hardest for him to join. And he chose Notre Dame above both.

It’ll never sit easy knowing a local 4-star player went elsewhere, especially because it seemed SU was right there at the top. Sounds like the decision was incredibly tough for Starling, and understandably so.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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