Feb. 20, 2003
By Garrett Kuk
With all of the bright lights and accolades focused upon the Notre Dame men’s basketball program, it is likely that one passes over Dan Lustig. The senior walk-on has tallied only six points in 2002-03, yet there is more to the 6-foot-5 guard than meets the eye.
For starters, Lustig has been a three-year member of the Irish Guard, a prestigious group on campus which is dressed in Irish kilts and marches with the Notre Dame band during football games. Lustig finished his duties last fall as Guard captain and exudes excitement when asked about his experiences amidst the stoic group.
“I can’t explain what it means to be a part of Notre Dame football,” Lustig says.
“From [pre-game] inspection where you can hear a pin drop, to marching to the stadium and hearing all the fans cheering as we go by, to coming out of the tunnel and being on the field…it is awesome.”
As a member of the Irish Guard, Lustig participated in every home football game, as well as two away games during the regular season – Michigan State and Florida State.
“Any away game is fun,” Lustig says, “but those were the games that were the most exciting and the least frustrating.”
Like many other Notre Dame students, Lustig was a standout athlete in Alexandria, Ind., a few hours south of campus. While he grew up playing basketball, he maintains that his best sport in high school was tennis. With a four-year record of 67-11, Lustig was an all-state athlete and a member of the Indiana Tennis All-Star squad.
In basketball, Lustig led his Class II-A squad to its first-ever state title his junior year.
Lustig also placed supreme importance on academics as well and was presented with the Madison County (Indiana) Red Haven Award, given to the high school senior who sets himself apart in athletic, academic and community service excellence.
While establishing himself as a member of the Irish Guard, Lustig had always talked of the possibility of walking onto the basketball squad. Friend and fellow Guardsman Tom McGinty encouraged and prodded Lustig to pursue his goal. McGinty was friends with Irish senior guard Matt Carroll and senior forward Dan Miller, and introduced Lustig to them in hopes they might be able to convince Lustig to tryout for the Irish roster.
Lustig had kept his basketball skills sharp while playing basketball with his fellow Irish Guard members and participating in Notre Dame’s Bookstore Basketball Tournament every spring which brings over 500 teams of students, faculty and staff together in the nation’s largest five-on-five outdoor basketball tournament. Last spring, Lustig’s team, Project Mayhem, lost in the championship game, yet the Tournament, and some not-so-subtle encouragement from Carroll, finally convinced Lustig to pursue a spot on the basketball team.
While taking summer school this past year to lighten his engineering course load while preparing for his senior campaign with the Irish Guard, Lustig was able to practice with members of the men’s basketball team who were also on campus taking classes and honing their skills. The friendships and experiences Lustig built over the summer allowed the varsity athletes to recommend Lustig’s talent to Irish head basketball coach Mike Brey before walk-on tryouts were held. As the only walk-on taken, Lustig asserts the timing of the tryout was quite fortunate.
“I think I got the best deal in the basketball tryout,” he said.
“I came in after the preseason training and conditioning and only about three weeks before our first game.”
The Irish Guard and basketball practice does not leave Lustig with much free time, but his enthusiasm is almost tangible.
“I’m able to play the sport that I love every day with guys that are so much better than me and we’re constantly competing.”
While most bench players see limited playing time, Lustig’s status as a walk-on has permitted only 12 minutes of action thus far this year. Despite limited floor time, Lustig spoke of the thrill of scoring his first points in a Notre Dame uniform during the Albany game. But the students were away for Thanksgiving break and Lustig yearned for another opportunity to play in front of his peers.
With time winding down against West Virginia, Lustig was able to drain a late basket that brought cheers of admiration from the students.
Lustig’s family and hometown also take great pride in his accomplishments. He is the sixth out of nine children and has followed all of his older siblings to Notre Dame.
While Lustig’s town of Alexandria has a population of only 6,000, he notes the town is very passionate about its basketball.
“They are very basketball oriented,” Lustig says.
“Our high school has a 3,000-seat gym and it’s packed for every home game.”
When a priest from the Lustigs’ home parish purchased 100 tickets for a January home game against Seton Hall at the Joyce Center, “the announcement was made during mass and the tickets were gone within two days,” Lustig recalls.
The fans journeyed to campus for an all-encompassing day trip that included mass at the Basilica, shopping in the bookstore, prayer time at the Grotto and a meal in South Dining Hall…all while decked out in bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “Put LUSTIG In!” on the front.
“I haven’t signed that many autographs since we won the state [championships] in high school.”
Despite all of the attention “that was embarrassing at first,” Lustig admitted, “it was pretty cool to have that support.”
However, Lustig is quick to point out that his desire is to help the team in any way he can. He is quick to deflect attention toward the team’s success.
“I love practicing with these guys, and while my three pointer was cool, our win over Pittsburgh was more rewarding because it showed the country what kind of team we were.”
Despite his teammates’ assertions to the contrary, Lustig maintains that his basketball career is over following this season. While he desires to continue competitive play, he looks to actively pursue a job future with his electrical engineering degree upon graduation in May.
However, Lustig looks forward to the prospect of reunions with his teammates on the basketball team as well as meeting up with old Irish Guard members on Notre Dame football weekends.
“It gives me a great opportunity to come back for home football and basketball games,” Lustig stated.
“I’ve been with the Guard for three years, and basketball is my love.”