January 21, 1999
By Lisa Nelson
Notre Dame basketball forward Todd Palmer doesn’t have much free time on his hands. When he does, though, you can usually find him listening to a CD from his vast collection that ranges from 250 to 300 classic rock selections thinking about his college basketball career. Like putting a CD into a player, Palmer’s career has taken a while to get started and had a few intermittent pauses along the way. But lately Palmer’s turntable has started spinning a little faster and the crescendo of a classic rock tune looks like it might be waiting to sound not only on Palmer’s CD player, but on the Joyce Center floor. Palmer came to Notre Dame in 1996, after earning all-league accolades four consecutive seasons and all-Bergen County honors as a senior for Don Bosco Prep. He left Bosco Prep as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,533 points and recorded career highs of 37 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists. He recorded 19 double-doubles his senior season and 23 as a junior.
He was recruited by a number of schools, but knew that he wanted to play in the BIG EAST. He and his family attended a number of Seton Hall games as they lived only 30 minutes from West Orange in Harrington, N.J. He also went to see St. John’s play at Madison Square Garden as the BIG EAST was in its heyday.
“Growing up in the mid-80s when the BIG EAST was really strong, it was evident it was one of the best conferences in the country,” Palmer said. “The decision of Notre Dame joining the BIG EAST, as well as being the best academic school I was being recruited by made Notre Dame the best choice for me.”
Once Palmer arrived though, he sat down with the coaching staff and decided it was best for him to sit out the first year rather than lose a year of eligibility knowing that he was not going to see much action behind the likes of All-American and BIG EAST Player of the Year Pat Garrity. “It was a decision made between me and the coaching staff to sit out my first season,” Palmer said. “At that point, I probably wouldn’t have seen a lot of playing time so we decided to have me sit out. It was a good decision for me as I went against Pat every day in practice and was able to practice at a high level. I also learned what was expected of me in pre-game preparation and what it took to be successful.
“It was a difficult situation for Todd playing behind a first-team All-American in Pat,” assistant coach Parker Laketa said. “He knew he wouldn’t get much playing time, but Todd took the opportunity to learn from Pat in hopes of getting some valuable minutes in the future.” Palmer did see some playing time his sophomore season, although he was still backing up Garrity. Playing in 22 games, all off the bench, Palmer averaged 1.6 points and .7 rebounds in 4.8 minutes of action. Although hoping to see more minutes, Palmer took the opportunity to learn as much as he could from the eventual first-round NBA draft pick. “Pat was a competitive guy on the floor, but once we left the floor he was a good friend,” Palmer said. “I learned a lot about being focused. Pat was always thinking on the court and that is one thing that a lot of players don’t do a whole lot. Most just react, but Pat was always one step ahead of the opponent and that is why he is so good.”
After two years of waiting in the wings, the 6 foot, 6 inch junior was ready to make something happen. In the 1998-99 Notre Dame media guide, when asked the question, “What player is going to surprise people the most?” Palmer answered himself hoping this was going to be his breakout year.
“When I answered that question, I was trying to feel confident in my abilities,” Palmer explained. “I have never tried to be cocky, but with the situation I was in last year, I wasn’t getting a whole lot of playing time so a lot of BIG EAST teams never even worried about me in preparing to play our team. Anything I can contribute on the floor this season would only be a bonus.”
But in came freshman sensation and BIG EAST Rookie of the Year candidate Troy Murphy. Palmer was once again relegated to back-up status, another intermittent stop in the song of life. In the first 17 games of the season, Palmer averaged 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.6 minutes. Not exactly the breakout season he was hoping for his junior year. “You desire to play,” Palmer said. “But you just have to take it in stride and make the best out of the situation. You can’t dwell on the situation. You just have to find the positives and focus on those. I have had to follow two pretty good guys in Pat and Troy.”
Patience has finally paid off for Palmer and he is getting his chance to sing, although he wishes it was under different circumstances. With an ankle injury to Murphy, head coach John MacLeod has asked Palmer to step up and try to fill Murphy’s huge shoes. Palmer made his first career start against Villanova at the First Union Center in front of 17,000 fans last Saturday. Although the game did not start the way he would have liked with the Irish going down 18-0 to open the contest, Palmer had a solid performance with a career-high nine points and four rebounds in 26 minutes of action. “I knew my chance would come sooner or later,” Palmer said. This is what I came here to Notre Dame to do. I came to play. I didn’t come here just to wear the uniform, I came here to play. Unfortunately, the Villanova game didn’t go the way I hoped it would from a team standpoint, but it felt good to play and contribute to the team.” “Todd has done a terrific job since the injury to Troy,” Laketa said. “Coach MacLeod has a great deal of confidence in Todd and doesn’t hesitate to put him in the game. He earned the start against Villanova and was the first one off the bench against Seton Hall.”
With Murphy expected to be out at least two more weeks, Palmer knows his role is ever increasing and that he has to step up for the Irish to be successful.
“Losing our leading scorer, everyone else has to step up and do more than what is expected of them to pick up for Troy absence,” Palmer said. “I always wanted the chance to showcase my skills. Now with Troy being hurt, I have been able to get some minutes and do some good things.
“I have always tried to stay ready on the bench and contribute as much as possible in a number of aspects. I try to be energetic on the floor, as well as be a scoring threat. A lot of teams probably don’t even know what I can do, but I am confident in my abilities and hopefully I will continue to contribute.”