Sept. 17, 2000
Tucked away in the top drawer of his office desk at Notre Dame is the national championship ring Mike Brey wore while he was an assistant coach at Duke. It is a reminder not of Brey’s past, but of the expectation for the future course of Notre Dame basketball.
The first-year mentor, who became the 17th head coach in the program’s 95-year history on July 14, 2000, inherits a team that is poised to return the Irish to the upper echelon of the collegiate basketball ranks. Four starters return from last year’s 22-15 squad that finished as the runner-up in the National Invitation Tournament. The four, along with the other returnees, still feel the sting of missing out on an NCAA tournament berth that would have marked Notre Dame’s first appearance in the 64-team field since 1990.
“This is a very natural fit for me to be here at Notre Dame,” Brey says. “It’s a place where my family and I want to be. I have great respect for the tradition of this institution, what it means to be at such a special place and the importance of the great athletic and academic traditions here. There are a lot of people out there who are excited about Notre Dame basketball and the future of our program. I can relate to their enthusiasm because I’m excited about where this program is headed.
“This is a long-term situation for me here,” Brey continues. “I think the surface has only been scratched with how we can do things, who we can recruit and how we can get it going here.”
More than a decade has gone by since the Irish appeared on the list of 64 teams invited to the NCAA’s end-of-the-year party. But, the fire was lit a year ago as Notre Dame recorded its first 20-win campaign since the 1988-89 campaign. The Irish stunned the basketball world with two top five victories last season (versus Ohio State and defending national champion Connecticut), creating a fervor and stir nationally that has not existed in more than 10 years.
With the likes of consensus All-American and national-player-of-the-year candidate Troy Murphy, forward David Graves, point guard Martin Ingelsby, sharp-shooter Matt Carroll, transfer Ryan Humphrey and Croatians Jere Macura and Ivan Kartelo in the lineup, Brey knows and understands that the stakes are high for a team who will settle for nothing less than a trip to the NCAAs.
“I certainly know how to coach with expectation,” Brey says. “My training (as an assistant at De Matha High School and Duke) has been at places where there was an expectation to win every year.”
Brey has been part of situations throughout his career where the expectations have been high, where teams have been ranked, supposed to win conference titles and compete for national championships. For the 41-year-old, who begins his sixth season as a head coach, it is very natural to enter into this type of coaching situation.
Notre Dame finds itself beginning the 2000-01 campaign listed in the top 25 of many basketball annals. The early preseason attention is appealing to Brey who is excited about the challenge of having this year’s Irish team live up to its preseason billing.
“I like the makeup of our team this year,” Brey says. “I’ve inherited a great situation, there’s is no rebuilding here. We’ve got a group of individuals who have taken complete ownership of themselves as a team. They were disappointed last year after not getting into the tournament, and they don’t want to be hanging their heads again this season in March. I’ve stepped into a good situation. This is a veteran team that is very hungry and wants to be challenged. They know and understand how high the expectations are for this season.
“It’s an honor to have people taking notice of us in the preseason,” he continues,”but now we have to back it up. It’s nice to talk about last year, but we have to move ahead.”
Don’t look for Brey to make many wholesale changes within the current system and game plan or make major alterations to each player’s style of play. He won’t tamper with what made this team so successful a year ago and expects there to be little transition and adjustment for his returnees. Few changes are expected to be made as Notre Dame will rely offensively on its inside game and perimeter shooting, while primarily employing a man-to-man defense. The Irish also will look for situations to run more in transition.
The hunger to take the next step may be the real strength of this year’s Irish team and its catalyst throughout the season. Perhaps the most impressive thing for Brey about his first-year squad is the unselfishness of this team, it’s a group of players committed to making sure that come March, it isn’t disappointed when the list of 64 team invited to the NCAA tournament is unveiled.
Notre Dame’s aim at returning to the NCAA tournament begins with last year’s BIG EAST Player of the Year, junior Troy Murphy. Last season, Murphy was the first Irish player since Adrian Dantley in 1976 to earn consensus first-team All-America honors. The 6-11, 245-pound forward from Morristown, N.J., led the league in both scoring and rebounding, which marked the first time that a player had led the conference in both categories in the same season.
Murphy was the only player nationally to finish in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding as he averaged 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. Despite being a target for opposing defenses since he stepped onto the court as a freshman, his resilency has been remarkable. He has started all 64 games during career and has scored in double figures in 63 of those contests.
Brey, who has recruited and coached the likes of Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, appreciates what a special player Murphy is and what he means to the success of this year’s team.
“I’m very comfortable dealing with a special player, and Troy certainly fits into that category,” Brey says. “He has the whole package. I’m anxious to work with him. What makes Troy so unique is that, in addition to being a great player, he is a tremendous leader. He enjoys that role and knows how important it is for him to set the tone. He, as much as anyone on this team, wants this program to take the next step.”
Murphy’s game is as complete as any player in the country. He is one of the toughest players to defend because he has the ability to score from anywhere on the court and in a number of different ways. As a sophomore, he incorporated a three-point shot into his offensive arsenal. In his first season, Murphy made four three-pointers on 13 attempts, but last season hit 30 shots of the 92 he attempted from beyond the arc.
No big man in the country gets to the free throw line with as much frequency as Murphy, and no player his size is as efficient from the charity stripe. He hit on .808 of his attempts a year ago, converting on 261 of 323 attempts, and owns a career .782 mark in his two seasons.
Murphy will be joined in the front court by senior Ryan Humphrey, a 6-8, 233-pound forward from Tulsa, Okla., who sat out all of last season after transferring from the University of Oklahoma. The addition of the athletic and competitive Humphrey will give the Irish one of the most imposing and dominant front lines in the country this season.
Humphrey is an explosive player with considerable natural ability who has the capability of averaging double figure scoring each night he steps onto the court. A tremendous finisher around the basket, he averaged 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in his sophomore season at Oklahoma.
He also has added range to his jumper that will provide more scoring options for Notre Dame. Humphrey’s presence on the floor will make opposing defenses accountable for where he is and what he is doing, and should shift some of their attention away from Murphy. With Humphrey’s athleticism and scoring potential, teams, can ill afford to solely concentrate their defensive efforts on Murphy this season.
“Troy’s going to be our go-to guy,” Brey says, ” but we’re going to work Ryan’s athletic ability in there. The biggest question is how we are going to utilize him. Ryan likes to face the basket so he will play on the perimeter some, but we also are going to need him to play in some high-low situations with Troy. He’s going to have to play both ways for us to be at our best.”
Junior center Harold Swanagan will once again be a prominent figure in the front court for the Irish. A 6-7, 252-pound product of Hopkinsville, Ky., started 34 games a year ago and averaged 6.4 points and 4.6 rebounds. Like Humphrey, he provides a physical and aggressive presence around the basket as both a scorer and rebounder.
“Harold is going to be a huge component to our success as a team this season,” Brey says. “He’s an experienced, veteran player who has been both a starter and reserve. Regardless of whether he is in the starting lineup or coming off the bench this season, Harold has to be in there helping us because he brings a certain toughness to our team. His role is going to be so important and will be critical to us becoming a special team.”
Balance is going to be a real key for the Irish. While Notre Dame’s front court is rock solid, its perimeter game has never been healthier with the return of junior forward David Graves, senior point guard Martin Ingelsby and sophomore Matt Carroll. As a team, the Irish shattered the single-season three-point mark hitting for 287 on 752 attempts.
Graves set the school’s single-season three-point mark a year ago hitting 83 from beyond the arc. The 6-6, 208-pound forward from Lexington, Ky., proved to be a big-game shooter as he produced buzzer-beater shots on the road at Ohio State and Seton Hall. Graves’ deadly accuracy forces defenses to make themselves accountable to his presence on the court.
He was Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer, and the only other player to average double figures last season, as he netted 13.2 points and 5.4 rebounds. Graves connected on nearly 50 percent of his shots from the field and .456 from three-point range a year ago.
“David is just a fearless player,” Brey says. “He’s a big-game shooter who likes to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game to take the big shot. David’s greatest asset to this team is that he is so tough mentally.”
After losing the starting point guard spot a year ago, Ingelsby is back in the fold as Notre Dame’s top floor general. Ingelsby’s experience and leadership will be immeasurable to the Irish this season as Brey will rely on his senior playmaker to play 33-34 minutes per game. The 6-0, 175-pound native of Philadelphia, Pa., has proven that he can handle the ball in the backcourt as well as shoot it from outside.
Not known to be a flashy player on the court, Ingelsby is regarded as an extremely solid guard in the BIG EAST. He averaged 5.0 points and 4.6 assists in his first two seasons, but those numbers dropped a year ago when he lost the starting job to then senior Jimmy Dillon. Ingelsby also has demonstrated the ability to hit the three-point shot with a total of 116 in his three seasons.
With a vote of assurance from his first-year coach, confidence will not be a problem for him this season. What will become important is learning how to pace himself while playing 30-plus minutes per game.
“I’m excited about coaching Martin Ingelsby,” Brey says. “Martin’s a man now, he’s been around, and I feel good about handing the ball to a guy who has played in a lot of big games. We’re going to rely on him to stay in games this season, he’s going to have to be smart about staying out of foul trouble, and we, as a coaching staff, are going to have to be smart about keeping him healthy.”
The 6-6, 210-pound guard from Horsham, Pa., will continue to develop his outside shooting range as one of Notre Dame’s top three-point shooting threats. More than half of the 125 field goals last season came from behind the arc as he ranked second on the team in three-point field goals made (64). He started 30 of the 37 games he played and averaged 9.8 points per contest.
“Matt is developing the same type of mentality that David Graves possesses,” Brey says. “He is going to become for us a player who wants to take the big shot at the end of a game. Matt, along with David and Martin, make us a very tough team to defend because of the strength of our outside shooting.”
The maturation of second-year Croatians Jere Macura and Ivan Kartelo will pay dividends for the Irish in the upcoming campaign. Macura, a 6-9, 226-pound forward from Split, Croatia, begins is second season of playing in the United States. He is an extremely athletic player who is at his best when the Irish run in transition. Macura averaged 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in his rookie season that included five double-figure scoring efforts.
Kartelo, a burly, hard-nosed center, had played one year of high school ball in the U.S. before his freshman outing last season. Another product of Split, Croatia, the 6-11, 247-pound center has a nice shooting touch for a player his size and is extremely active around the basket. Kartelo averaged 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds as a freshman, but looks to improve those numbers this season. In particular, he will look to take advantage of his size on the offensive and defensive boards.
“I’m excited to see the development of Ivan and Jere,” Brey says. “They are both talented players who are starting to come around and develop. Their improvement should significantly help us this season.”
Senior Hans Rasmussen will rejoin the team after the completion of first-semester final exams. The Portland, Ore., native left the squad in Dec. of 1998 and transferred to the University of Portland. Rasmussen never played while at the school, and returned to Notre Dame as a student in Jan. of 2000. The 6-10, 228-pound forward began working out with the Irish following the conclusion of last season and stayed throughout the summer to participate in off-season conditioning.
Rasmussen provides the Irish with even more depth in the post. He’s comfortable scoring in the post and shooting from 12-to-15 foot range facing the basket. Rasmussen is a knowledgeable player with good passing skills.
“Hans is ready to do whatever we need of him,” Brey says. “When he is in the game, he has to be a screener and rebounder and give us a presence in the post. Hans is going to help set the tone for us, he is excited to be back and has a great attitude about doing whatever he can to help this team.”
Notre Dame’s backcourt will be bolstered by the addition of freshmen Torrian Jones and Chris Markwood as well as junior walk-on Charles Thomas.
Jones’ role may be as a combination guard playing both the shooting and point guard spots on the floor. He gives the Irish versatility in the backcourt because he handles the ball well and can shoot from the perimeter. The 6-4, 185-pound product of Fairless Hills, Pa., averaged 22.0 points, seven rebounds and six assists in leading Pennsbury to a school-record 26 victories last season. The Bucks and Montgomery Counties Player of the Year is one of third Philadelphia area players on the Irish roster.
“Torrian is a skilled guy who is a good athlete and has good size,” Brey says. “He has the mentality to run the team if he has to and may see time at point guard when Martin is out of the game.”
Markwood can play either guard or small forward. The 6-4, 190-pounder from South Portland, Me., has strong offensive skills, but is highly regarded for his defensive tenacity and athletic versatility. He averaged 16.0 points and 2.5 rebounds at South Portland High School in his senior season and was named Maine’s Mr. Basketball at the conclusion of the 1999-2000 campaign.
“Like Torrian, we’re going to need Chris to be ready to come in and help us handle the basketball,” Brey says. “He has the mentality to run the team if he has to when Martin in on the bench.”
Thomas, a 5-11, 160-pound point guard, is a three-year walk-on in the program who played in six games last season. He also may see time this season as a backup to Ingelsby with the purpose of coming into the game to handle the ball.
Tom Timmermans, a 6-11, 248-pound center from The Netherlands, is the third newcomer to the Irish roster and the third European prospect to come to Notre Dame in the last two years. Timmermans gives the Irish bulk in the front court. He played for two seasons at Blue Ridge School in Dyke, Va. and averaged 1.0 points and nine rebounds in his final senior campaign.
Notre Dame plays an attractive non-conference schedule that features matchups against Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Miami of Ohio and Kentucky. The Irish will meet the Bearcats at the inaugural Wooden Tradition at the 18,345-seat Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Ind. The matchup is one of two doubleheaders being played on Sat., Nov. 25 as Purdue meets Arizona in the other contest.
Highlighting Brey’s first season will be three nationally televised games on CBS. The first occurs on Sat., Jan. 13 in Lexington, Ky. in what will be a homecoming for junior David Graves as the Irish meet the Wildcats for the first time since the 1996-97 campaign.
Of the five BIG EAST regular-season games CBS will be televising, The Joyce Center will be the venue for Notre Dame’s two other appearances on CBS when Brey’s squad plays host to Seton Hall on Sun., Feb. 18 and Georgetown on Sun., Mar. 4 in the regular-season finale.
“We’re obviously thrilled to be have three of our games on CBS.” Brey says. “It’s the ultimate stage for our players to showcase their talents. Hopefully those games will be make an impression on the NCAA Tournament Committee at the end of the season.”
The BIG EAST Conference will continue with its 16-game schedule during the regular-season, but the format for the postseason tournament will change to a 12-team format beginning this season. The men’s basketball teams will also be competing in two divisions (East and West) this season. Notre Dame’s West division includes Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Syracuse and West Virginia. The teams from the other East division will be Boston College, Connecticut, Miami, Providence, St. John’s, Villanova and Virginia Tech.
During the regular-season, the Irish will play each of their divisional opponents twice and then have four crossover games against St. John’s and Boston College and away games versus Connecticut and Virginia. With the new scheduling format, the Irish will not play Miami, Providence and Villanova during the regular season.
The top six teams in each division will participate in the AT &T BIG EAST Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York. The top two teams in each division will be awarded first-round byes. The first-round games will be cross-division matchups (the No. 3 seeds will play No. 6 seeds and the No.4 seeds will play the No. 5 seeds).