Oct. 30, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a six-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2009-10 Notre Dame winter sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the tradition-rich Fighting Irish men’s basketball team, which is coming off its ninth consecutive postseason appearance (a NIT semifinals berth) last year.
The 2009-10 campaign marks the 10th season for head coach Mike Brey along the Notre Dame sidelines. Brey has led the Irish to 188 wins in his nine campaigns on the bench and nine postseason appearances, including five NCAA tournament berths.
Notre Dame secured a third straight 20-win campaign (sixth under Brey) and to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament in 2009 as it fell short of garnering a third straight NCAA bid.
The disappointment of missing out on the NCAA tournament has motivated many of the Irish players throughout the off-season, especially senior Luke Harangody, a two-time All-American, and classmates Tory Jackson and Jonathan Peoples. The trio, who will serve as tri-captains during the upcoming campaign, is just 23 wins of becoming the all-time winningest class in program history and enters the season with 70 victories as they have averaged better than 23 wins during their three seasons.
“Throughout the off-season and in talking with our seniors, much of our discussions centered around the NCAA tournament and playing our way back into it,” Brey says. “Getting into the NCAA tournament is our goal every year. Shortly after the conclusion of last season, these three guys began setting the tone for a return for this upcoming campaign and have made getting back to the NCAAs the mission for the entire team.”
This season also will mark a new era in Notre Dame basketball with a $26.3 million renovation of the Joyce Center and arena and the opening of Purcell Pavilion. It is the first major renovation of the arena since the opening at the start of the 1968-69 campaign.
Notre Dame’s success this season certainly will be dependent on a total team effort throughout the year. While Harangody and Jackson will be the central components with a combined 170 starts, the Irish certainly will have to get contributions from a number of individuals. And despite the loss of four players — Ryan Ayers, Zach Hillesland, Kyle McAlarney and Luke Zeller — to graduation, Brey expects a number of individuals familiar with his system to step up and make immediate contributions.
“The thing that people mistake about us is that they think we are young.” Brey says. “Sure we lost four guys played key roles for over the course of the past two seasons, but we others on this year’s team who have know what this program is all about and have waited for their opportunities. We’re not going to be relying on new faces; we’ve got veterans who just have had to wait their turns.
“I believe that we have a very interesting nucleus of returning players and freshman that have the chance to be successful. In a very unassuming way, I think that we are still kind of old with a lot more experience then people think.”
Since their arrivals on campus three years ago, Harangody and Jackson have emerged as the faces of Notre Dame basketball and have been instrumental to the success of the Irish program. Their toughness and determination are two of the reasons why Notre Dame has been so successful at home over the past three seasons.
The Irish have won 52 of their last 55 homes and have proven to be the BIG EAST Conference’s most dominant team at home with a 94.5 winning percentage. Notre Dame recorded back-to-back undefeated seasons at home in ’06-’07 and ’07-’08 during Harangody and Jackson’s freshman and sophomore campaigns. Last season, the Irish saw their school-record 45-game home win streak (longest in the nation at the time) end in January 2009.
As they have the past three seasons, Harangody and Jackson once again will be central to Notre Dame’s success both at home and away from the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion.
“The mental toughness that Luke and Tory have brought to this program is immeasurable,” Brey says. “Since their freshmen year, their energy and leadership have defined our team at times. I expect that they will be, along with Jonathan Peoples, the primary voices in our locker room this season. They lead by example and never take a night off. It’s just not in their nature. I just love their toughness and the energy that they bring to the court.”
Harangody returns for his final season at Notre Dame as one of the leading candidates for player-of-the-year accolades. After making himself eligible for the 2009 NBA draft, he withdrew his name from consideration in June to return to school. Brey believes that the experience the standout forward experienced for two months this summer has made him a better player.
“I am very proud of the process that Luke went through for two months during the summer,” Brey says. “He handles his business like a man and in the process made himself into a better player. Luke is very focused on being a leader this season and is very excited to be back here at Notre Dame for his senior year.”
The two-time All-American became the first player in BIG EAST history to lead the league in both scoring (25.2) and rebounding (12.8) in back-to-back seasons and was the only player nationally a year ago to finish in the top 10 in both of those categories. His 23.3 scoring average ranked eighth nationally, while his 11.8 boards placed him sixth in the nation.
Harangody has become an automatic double-double every night out and a year ago set an Irish single-season mark with 25 to his credit. Expect the Irish offense to once again run through him in the post, but also look for him to add more variety to his game by stepping out and taking more shots from the perimeter.
Harangody begins the season in pursuit of several records and is within reach of becoming the all-time leading scorer in rebounder at Notre Dame and in BIG EAST Conference history.
“Luke has a chance to carve a unique place among the great players in the history of our storied program as well as in the BIG EAST,” Brey says. “He has been the ultimate team player for us over the course of his career and a guy who has brought an infinite amount of energy every time he steps on the court.”
Jackson once again will be the Irish floor leader. He has led the Irish in both assists and steals throughout his career. Jackson’s leadership and voice in the locker room and on the floor will be vital this year, especially early on in the season.
“There is going to be no more important or vital voice for us this year than Tory Jackson’s,” Brey says. “He has been the heartbeat of our program over the past two years, and like Luke, the engine and pulse that makes us run. Tory is respected by his teammates because of his desire to win and unselfishness. I expect this to be Tory’s best season in an Irish uniform; he’s been a very special player for us.”
Brey and the Irish will begin the season with adversity. Scott Martin, who along with Ben Hansbrough, was one of two transfers eligible to play for the Irish after sitting out last season, tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during workouts this fall and will be out the entire year. A projected starter in the preseason, Martin is expected to make a full recovery and be ready when the 2010-11 begins.
Martin, who averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds during his freshman season at Purdue in 2007-08, would have brought experience and scoring. While his absence will be missed, look for several others to step into the rotation and take advantage of the chances they now will have for additional playing time.
“I am very disappointed for Scott because he was going to be such a key factor for us this season,” Brey season. “He had worked so hard since transferring from Purdue on his overall strength and getting himself ready for this season. Scott’s game was one that fits in well with the style we play and I know our players were anxious with having him on the court and in the lineup this year.
“With that said, his injury has left the door open for several others who have the opportunity to be real impact players for us. All in all, it creates a situation where this is going to be more playing minutes for a few more people.”
Senior All-America forward Luke Harangody has a chance to carve his place in the Notre Dame and BIG EAST record books as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in both school and conference history.
Notre Dame’s strength on the frontline undoubtedly starts with All-American Luke Harangody (Sr./Forward/6-8, 246/Schererville, Ind.). Throughout his career he has been a force at both ends of the floor. Harangody is one of four players in program history with more than 1,800 points and 800 rebounds.
Without question, Harangody was Brey’s biggest pickup in the off-season when decided to return for his senior year and withdraw his name from the NBA draft. The two-month process not only was good for his development and maturity as a player.
“It was a good experience for Luke to go through the process he did last summer,” Brey says. “He’s an even more confident at moving around to different spots on the floor. We’re going to have him open up in transition much like he did at the end of last season and run him off a screen for 15 and 18-foot jump shots.”
“He’ll be our main threat in the low post because that is his bread and butter, but we’re going to have him step out along the perimeter which should add another dimension to his game.”
With 1,823 career points, he needs just 738 to break Austin Carr’s career scoring mark at Notre Dame. In addition, he is just 370 rebounds short of become the school’s career leader in that category with 949 for his career.
Harangody’s record pursuit also will include a chance to become the BIG EAST Conference’s leading scorer and rebounder as he needs just 369 points and 162 rebounds to surpass each of those marks. He heads into the season with 1,036 points and 540 rebounds in three seasons of league play.
Tyrone Nash (Jr./Forward/6-8, 232/Queens, N.Y.) will be one of the players Brey and his coaching staff will be counting on this season. Nash averaged 3.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in 11.3 minutes off the bench. As his sophomore season progressed, he saw increased playing time and earned one start in the 34 games he played.
Nash will make his mark this season for the Irish defending and rebounding. While Brey will look for him to score in the post, he will look to him to be a force inside. Nash can be a very versatile player for the Irish who can help on both ends of the floor.
“The good thing for Tyrone is that he understands what is role is going to be on this team,” Brey says. “He knows how he can make his mark. I want him to be more comfortable around the basket and in the low post; we need his physicality. He can take some of the rebounding off of Luke (Harangody)
“Tyrone has a good feel for the game and is easy to play with on the offensive end because he is such a good screener and passer.”
With the loss of Scott Martin (Jr./Guard/6-8/, Tim Abromaitis (Jr./Forward/6-8, 235/Unionville, N.Y.) and Carleton Scott (Jr./Forward/6-7, 217/San Antonio, Texas) are two of the players who will contend for playing time and even a spot in the starting lineup. Abromaitis sat out last season after playing in 12 games and averaging 1.7 points and 1.0 rebounds, while Scott played in 20 games in his first season of action a year ago and averaged 2.5 points and 1.2 boards.
“Tim and Carleton were going to get playing even before Scott’s (Martin) injury.” Brey says. “Since the injury, however, each now knows that they could have significant roles either as starters or key contributors off the bench. With the loss of Scott, we need both of them to deliver for us.”
Abromaitis is most comfortable playing along the perimeter and is strong outside shooter, while Scott’s unique athleticism and shooting ability make him a threat at both ends of the floor. He can provide the Irish with versatile as both a scorer and defender.
The addition of three new faces to the Irish frontline will bolster the depth at this spot on the floor. Joining the Irish this season are rookies Mike Broghammer (Fr./Forward/6-8, 214/Orono, Minn.), Jack Cooley (Fr./Forward/6-9, 244/Glenview, Ill.) and Tom Knight (Fr./Forward/6-9, 251/Dixfield, Maine). When Harangody decided to return, this took the pressure off of these three to be immediate contributors. All three will have the luxury this season of being able to settle into the Irish system and play behind the veterans.
“I like the versatility that these three bring to our system and style of play,” Brey says. “Over time, they are going to have a significant impact on moving our program forward. They’ll have no pressure on them this year to play heavy minutes, but throughout the season, however, we will be looking for them to improve their overall games.”
Tim Andree (Sr./Forward/6-8, 214/Colts Neck, N.J.) adds depth to the Irish frontcourt in returning for his fourth year as a walk-on.
Senior point guard Tory Jackson will be the engine that makes Notre Dame go during the 2009-10 season.
The play of Notre Dame backcourt always has been a hallmark under Brey and there is no reason to believe that the play of the Irish guards won’t be critical to the team’s success again this season.
While Harangody is the heart and soul of the frontcourt, Tory Jackson (Sr./Guard/5-11, 195/Saginaw, Mich.) is the heartbeat of the Irish backcourt. Over the past three seasons, no player has come up with bigger offensive and defensive plays for Notre Dame when it has mattered most with the game on the line. Jackson has had an uncanny ability throughout his career to elevate his play for the big games.
Closing in on the 1,000-point mark, Jackson has been Notre Dame’s assist and steals leader during his three seasons with career averages of 5.0 and 1.6, respectively. As a junior, he averaged 10.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
Jackson’s playmaking abilities and unselfishness have been the hallmark of his style of play throughout his career and the reasons why he has been so vital to the program’s success.
“I’ve never had to question Tory’s toughness, leadership or mindset,” Brey says. “I’ve been in this business a long time and Tory is one of the most vocal players I have ever been around. He’s a flat-out winner who thrives on driving his team.
“I expect Tory to have his best season in an Irish uniform. He, like Luke, wants nothing more than to get this team back to the NCAA tournament.”
Jackson partner in the backcourt will be Ben Hansbrough (Sr./Guard/6-3, 206/Poplar Bluff, Mo.) who sat out last year after transferring to Notre Dame following two seasons at Mississippi State. Hansbrough has the same mindset as Jackson as this duo will prove to be Notre Dame’s toughest backcourt tandem in quite some time.
He likes to shoot from the perimeter but is not afraid to drive to the basket. Hansbrough bring immediate experience to the lineup. He has used the past year to get to become comfortable within the Irish system.
“Ben is a terrific ball-handler who will also bring the ball up the floor,” Brey says. “What I like most about Ben is his competitiveness and the energy that he bring on the floor. His overall game fits well within our style of play.
“He’s going to have an instantaneous impact on team this year. I love the combination of Ben and Tory (Jackson) in our backcourt; they’re two of the toughest guys mentally that we have on this team. We’ve not had a backcourt with their toughness since I’ve been here.”
Jonathan Peoples (Sr./Guard/6-3, 207/Bellwood, Ill.) returns in for his final season in an Irish uniform looking to secure a spot in the starting lineup. Peoples has transformed his game over the past three campaigns and enters his final campaign ready to have the best year of his career.
One of the team’s most improved players, he played in all 36 games last season and earned two starts. He averaged 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Peoples has a great understanding of what is expected of him on the court. He has great court awareness and ball-handling skills. He has worked hard to make himself a better defensive player and has learned to play with a great deal of confidence.
“Whether he is a starter or one of the first players off the bench, we’re going to need Jonathan’s confidence,” Brey says. “He’s become a great fit for our system and the style we like to play. He’s got a great shot and an uncanny ability to find the open player. Jonathan is at his best when he is looking pass. I don’t, however, want him to be too unselfish because we are going to need his scoring ability from the perimeter as well as his skill to drive to the basket.”
Joey Brooks (Fr./Guard/6-5, 215/Houston, Texas) is one of four rookies on the team. He will see playing time behind Jackson, Hansbrough and Martin. Brooks, a highly-skilled player, is a good ball-handler with an effective perimeter shot.
“With the three players we have returning in the backcourt, I’m not sure how much playing time Joey is going to get, but he is going to need to be ready.” Brey says. “He’s an athletic wing with great court awareness and is an unselfish player. We’ve talked a lot to Joey about becoming a better defender because that is what we are going to need him to do when he is in the game.”
Tom Kopko (Jr./Guard/6-2, 183/Chicago, Ill.) rounds out the Irish backcourt as a third-year walk-on.
— ND —