by Joe Licandro

It is not often when a coach tells a player, especially a freshman, to keep shooting the ball.

In the case of Colin Falls, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey wouldn’t have it any other way. With the graduation losses of Matt Carroll and Dan Miller, the Irish are going to rely on the sharpshooter to be one of their primary outside shooting threats.

Playing such a significant role might be a lot to ask from a freshman, but the 6-4 guard from Park Ridge, Ill., has already demonstrated to his coaches and his teammates that he is ready to contribute immediately.

“I think Colin really impressed our captains with the overall feel for the game,” Brey says. “He’s a great shooter with good range. After losing Matt Carroll, there is a need for him to fill that role. I think Colin can become very important for us.

The comparisons to Carroll are hard not to make given that Falls possesses such similar attributes to the departing all-Big East first-team guard. Throughout last year’s incredible run to the Sweet 16, Carroll was Notre Dame’s most consistent scorer with his timely shooting that in many instances willed the Irish to victory.

“I think Colin really impressed our captains with the overall feel for the game. He’s a great shooter with good range.”-Irish head coach Mike Brey

While Carroll’s departure leaves big shoes to fill, Falls chose Notre Dame in large part over Boston College, Iowa and Northwestern because his skills on the court can help fill the void. The freshman hopes to pick up where Carroll left off and lead the Irish one step further to an NCAA Final Four.

“I don’t know if anyone can replace Matt Carroll, but I would love to follow in his footsteps,” Falls says. “I really want to build upon what he accomplished here and help us win an NCAA championship. His success is part of the reason I came here.

“Coach Brey runs an offense where a shooter feels comfortable. When I decided to come here, I felt I could see playing time and contribute right away.”

After over a decade of missing the NCAA Tournament and finishing near the bottom of the BIG EAST regular-season standings, Notre Dame has emerged as a tournament regular and league power in just three years under Brey.

With increased success, come increased expectations. Although the loss of Carroll and Miller will be hard to overcome, Falls believes this year’s Notre Dame team has the talent, the cohesiveness, and the determination to not only remain atop the Big East, but to extend this season one weekend further.

“This program has gotten to the point where we’re expected to contend for the national championship” Falls says. “That’s our goal. This team is not just content with making not just content making it to the tournament anymore. With Chris Thomas returning, Torin Francis on the inside, and everyone else stepping up, we have the chance to do make a run.”

Through just a few practices, returning Irish players have already begun to notice the similarities between Falls and Carroll. Sophomore guard Chris Quinn believes that Notre Dame’s success this season hinges upon their ability to create scoring opportunities for the incoming freshman.

“Colin is a great player and a great shooter,” Quinn says. “The one thing that has impressed me so much is how much he knows about the game of basketball. He really fits in with our team well. Colin doesn’t try to force things. He knows his role, and I think he’s going to be great for us this year.”

If Falls’ illustrious prep career is any prognosticator, Irish fans will be in store for some tremendous offensive fire power over the next four years. He graduated from Loyola Academy as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2045 points), three points shooter (209), and free throw percentage leader (84%).

Admittedly, Falls understands that the transition from high school to college will not be an easy one. As he has already discovered in pre-season practices, the players are much stronger and the game is much faster at the college level. But the freshman believes he is ready for the challenge thanks to the support of his teammates.

“My teammates have helped me so much with adjusting to the college game,” he says. “It’s definitely a lot tougher to get your shot off because the players are so much quicker. With the senior leadership on this team, they’re not expecting me to come in here and be Matt Carroll right away. They are just expecting me to just make shots and play tough defense.”

Most players would love to be instructed by their coaches and teammates to shoot the ball as much as possible. So what does Falls think about being given the green light to fire three-pointers at will? Well, in his true modest fashion, he believes that he is fortunate to be around such selfless teammates and a supportive coaching staff who have granted him a tremendous degree of offensive freedom.

“You can just tell by playing with Chris Quinn and Chris Thomas that they know how to get the shooter open,” Falls says. “Coming into practice, I was a little tentative because I was the new guy. But my teammates and coaches kept encouraging me to shoot and that gave me confidence. We’re a very unselfish basketball team. With a bunch of shooters graduating, the team is expecting me when I am open to shoot the ball and deliver. I just want to help this team in anyway I can, and play hard when coach puts me in the game.”

Growing up as an Irish fan only ninety miles from campus, Falls seems like the perfect fit for Notre Dame. Through just two months of college, he already loves Notre Dame for all it has to offer from both academically and athletically. With the start of the season only a little over a month away, Irish fans will love Falls for all that he has to offer.