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Veteran Irish Squad Sets Sight On A Return To The NCAA Tournament

Aug. 27, 2001

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For the first time in the 96-year history of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program, a championship banner will hang in the rafters of the fabled Joyce Center. Six years after relinquishing their stature as a basketball independent to join the BIG EAST Conference, the Irish proved that they belong.

Last season’s return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990 pointed Notre Dame back in the direction of national prominence. The Irish ended the 2000-01 campaign with a 20-10 record and finished the season with its first national ranking since 1987 (19th in the final Associated Press poll).

But perhaps the most defining moment of all a year ago came on Feb. 24, 2001 in Notre Dame’s 85-61 win at Virginia Tech. On that Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg, Va., the Irish secured their first BIG EAST regular-season title by winning outright the league’s West divisional crown, a full week before the end of the regular season. On its way to the league crown, Notre Dame won eight straight conference contests, its longest winning streak since becoming a league member in 1995-96.

Once an afterthought in the always tough and competitive BIG EAST, Notre Dame could finally call itself — CHAMPIONS.

A seasoned and veteran Irish team returns in 2001-02, but this year’s squad may be up against some skepticism. The early departure of two-time consensus All-American Troy Murphy to the NBA and the graduation of point guard Martin Ingelsby are certainly significant, but don’t look for second-year head coach Mike Brey to be conjuring up any sympathy.

“With the losses of Troy Murphy and Martin Ingelsby, we all look at this upcoming season as the glass being half full rather than half empty,” Brey says. “We certainly lost two very good players in those two guys, but it would be insulting to our players returning and selling them short if I were to start crying the blues about this being a total rebuilding year.”

Four key players return from last season’s championship squad — senior tri-captains David Graves, Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan and junior Matt Carroll. The return of these experienced veterans should provide strong leadership both on and off the court for Brey’s squad. These are the four players which will provide the foundation for this season’s Irish team.

“I feel good about this team when I look at the four leaders that we have returning who are going to be leaders of the team — Graves, Swanagan, Humphrey and Carroll.” Brey says. “These are four guys who have won a championship and played a lot of college basketball. When you start right there, you have four players who have been through the battles and hung a BIG EAST championship banner.

“Despite the fact that Troy Murphy and Martin Ingelsby aren’t back, I think we have a lot to work with. I’m excited about this team and about this season.”

McDonald’s and Parade All-American Chris Thomas will be thrown into the mix quickly. The heralded freshman point guard out of Indianapolis, Ind., who was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2001, is expected to immediately step into the role as starting point guard. He will be Notre Dame’s floor general at the onset of the first practice.

And while the Irish fortunes at point guard are in the hands of a rookie, Brey is confident in the capabilities of Thomas.

“Chris is mature beyond his years,” Brey says. “We need him to be a key guy for us this season and he is going to play a critical role for us. Chris knows what the expectations are and I believe he is ready for the challenges that await him at this next level.”

With the loss of Murphy and the transfer of Ivan Kartelo, Notre Dame’s frontline depth poses concern for Brey. Junior Jere Macura, sophomore Tom Timmermans and freshman Jordan Cornette are all expected to see significant playing minutes behind Humphrey and Swanagan

Macura was more of a perimeter player last season, but Brey feels that he can better utilize the Croatian’s talents moving him closer to the basket. He (Macura) and the team will benefit if he becomes more of a frontline player.

“Moving Jere from the perimeter to the frontline will be better for him and for our team,” Brey says. “I think that with this move the door is open for him to contribute in a number of different ways. He was somewhat confused this past season with his role on the team, but I think he is ready this year to step in and help us out immediately.”

Brey also expects an increased role during the upcoming season for Timmermans who made steady progress last year.

“Tom is going to see more playing time this season.” Brey says. “We’re going to need him to step in and contribute. Similar to Jere, there is going to be a lot of opportunities for Tom this season.”

Cornette’s contributions this season will be more from a defensive standpoint. With his length and quickness, his impact initially will come as a defender. In Brey’s system this season, he will be a stopper coming off the bench guarding a small forward or a big guard.

“Jordan was coached very well in high school,” Brey says. “Coming in this season all he is going to have to worry about primarily is his defensive play. We will bring him along slowly offensively, but the way he is going to help us this year and get playing time is through his defensive play.”

While depth up front poses several question marks, Notre Dame’s perimeter game may be one of the strongest in the BIG EAST with the return Graves and Carroll, the Irish’s top three-point shooters each of the last two seasons. The combination of Graves and Carroll provides Notre Dame once again with a very healthy outside shooting arsenal.

“I look at Matt Carroll as being the fourth captain on this team,” Brey says. “I look for him to emerge as a real big-time college guard this season. He does so many things well and is such a consistent player at both ends of the floor.”

Look for sophomore Torrian Jones to have a greater role on the squad this season. The second-year guard had a very typical freshman season as he made adjustments to the college game. During the second half of the year, he played extremely well and contributed in a number of different ways. Jones saw some time at point guard, but showed that he is more comfortable playing the two guard position.

“I feel good about where Torrian is right now,”?Brey says. “He had the type of year as a freshman that you expect all rookies to have — up, down and all over the place. At the end of the year we were able to get him in some critical situations and he responded to the challenge. He learned how to win and how to be a college guard watching Matt Carroll, Martin Ingelsby and David Graves.”

Chris Markwood, sidelined all of last season following knee surgery in the preseason, appears healthy and ready to step in and contribute off the bench during the upcoming year. He was able to practice with the team the last couple months of the season, and in the final weeks played extremely well. Brey expects Markwood to have a defensive presence on the floor in the Irish backcourt.

Senior walk-on Charles Thomas also gives the Irish additional depth in the backcourt.

Brey once again will employ a strong man-to-man defense, which was embraced by his squad a year ago. With the addition of Thomas and the return of Jones, Graves and Carroll, Notre Dame will have more depth in terms of speed in the backcourt. The athleticism and quickness in the backcourt should allow Brey to move his man-to-man pressure up to halfcourt.

“I’m looking for us to be able to push our man-to-man defense off the three-point line and up to halfcourt, and perhaps even three-quarter court,” Brey says. “With the depth we have in terms of overall team speed at guard, I think we are going to be able to pressure opponents sooner. This hopefully will result in us getting some easier baskets.”

Notre Dame ranked as one of the nation’s top teams in field goal percentage defense as the Irish finished 10th in that category a year ago after holding opponents to just 39.3 percent accuracy from the field. Brey’s squad won a championship a year ago because of its field goal percentage defense and its presence on the defensive boards, allowing opponents few second chances. With a mix of zone in its predominantly man-to-man defense this season, the Irish will look to again be strong in this area.

“Last year we embraced becoming a field goal percentage defensive team,” Brey says. “We have players on this team who are good position defenders. They know how to guard their opponent as well as position themselves on the boards. We played well as a team defensively and learned to help each other out.”

Despite the loss of Murphy’s 9.2 rebounds per game, Brey believes that his team once again can excel in this area. Humphrey, who averaged 9.0 boards per game, and Swanagan will be Notre Dame’s rebounding leaders. Graves and Carroll are also strong rebounders from the perimeter.

“We know what Ryan (Humphrey) and Harold (Swanagan) are capable of doing on the boards, but David (Graves) and Matt (Carroll) also can rebound from the wings. Torrian (Jones) also showed last year that he is a strong rebounder, and I expect Chris (Thomas) will be better in this area for us. With the loss of Murphy, the emphasis will be on becoming a better rebounding team from the perimeter.

“I believe that we can be a solid rebounding team this year. It is important that we once again have a presence on the boards. Our perimeter players have to remember to help us out and to stay in and around the basket. We were successful last year because our guys on the perimeter did such a good job rebounding.”

While the losses of Murphy and Ingelsby are significant, Brey has a confident ballclub heading into the upcoming campaign. Winning the BIG EAST’s West Division crown last season is something that cannot be underestimated considering the rise this team made in the league ranks throughout the entire season.

“Winning last year helps us deal with losing Troy and Martin this year,” Brey says. “A major core of the players who helped us win that championship a year ago are back. We have men on this team who understand and know what it takes to win a league title.

“Winning a championship was a mystery and such an elusive thing when I talked about it to them at the beginning of last season. I think it will be easier to address it this year because now we know what it is like to pursue and reach the goal of winning a title.”

Frontcourt
The loss of Troy Murphy poses concerns about Notre Dame’s depth up front. Brey will look to his two senior captains, Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan, for leadership and experience.

Humphrey was Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer and rebounder a year ago as he averaged 14.1 points and 9.0 rebounds. The 6-8, 233-pound product of Tulsa, Okla., returned to the hardcourt after sitting out the 1999-2000 campaign following his transfer from the University of Oklahoma. A third-team all-BIG EAST honoree, Humphrey electrified Irish crowds with his athleticism and leaping ability.

Brey will look for Humphrey to be more of an offensive force this season. Last year, he was a scoring threat both down low and from the perimeter as he registered a team-best 50.5 percent shooting percentage from the floor. While he proved to be both a scoring and rebounding threat, Humphrey’s signature became his ability to block shots from anywhere on the floor. His 79 blocked shots, a team high, were the second most by an Irish player in a single season. “Ryan’s ready to become more of a threat offensively this season,” Brey says. “We’re going to run more sets for him this year and get him the ball more often. He must continue to have a defensive presence on the court.

“I would like to see Ryan become one of the top three rebounders in the league and to average double figures in that category. I think that’s realistic for him to accomplish. He also must be ready to be a leader for us.”

Harold Swanagan became a starter midway through last season and was in the Irish starting rotation throughout its run to the league title. The 6-7, 252-pound forward averaged 15.1 minutes per game, 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds, but must expect to play more minutes and become more of an offensive threat around the basket this season.

The Hopkinsville, Ky., product is the type of blue-collar player all good teams need, defending, rebounding and screening are all a part of his game.

“Every team needs to have a player on its team like Harold,” Brey says. “He brings so many intangibles to this squad. Harold is well-liked and well-respected by every player and coach because of his unselfishness and work ethic. He will be a key part of the team this season. The one thing Harold must do is become more of a vocal leader throughout the entire year.”

Jere Macura’s move from the perimeter closer to the basket will give the Irish more frontline options, experience and depth. The 6-9, 226-pound junior from Split, Croatia can expect to see more playing time this season after averaging 7.7 minutes, 1.9 points and 1.6 boards per game a year ago. With Macura playing nearer to the basket, Brey can take advantage of his athletic ability which will give him more flexiblity on the court to either shoot from the perimeter or drive to the basket. He has shown the ability to be an outside shooter and three-point threat as well as a strong rebounder.

“I think Jere is going to feel more comfortable playing away from the perimeter,” Brey says. “He’s still going to be able to shoot from the outside, but I think he is a better player when we can take away some of his ballhandling responsibilities and from defending an opposing player on the perimeter man-to-man. Moving him closer to the basket helps us better utilize his skills.”

Tom Timmermans’ 6-11, 248-pound frame makes him the lone true big man on this team. The native of Driehuis, Netherlands saw action in half of Notre Dame’s contests a year ago (15 games).

Brey needs Timmermans to step in and challenge for playing time immediately.

“I’m excited about the strides that Tom made last season and throughout the offseason,” Brey says. “The door is open for him this season to have an impact on this team. He is a skilled player who challenges all of our guys in practice every day. Tom is big and strong and has a physical presence on the floor that he must learn to use to his advantage. He listens well and wants to become a key figure on this team.”

Jordan Cornette will have a specific role on this team — and that will be as a defensive specialist. With the number of scoring options the Irish have this season, the 6-9, 200-pound product of Cincinnati, Ohio must concentrate his efforts on having a defensive presence when he is in a game.

Cornette averaged 14.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots per game in final scholastic season at St. Xavier. An honorable mention all-state selection, Cornette’s two greatest attributes are his long reach and quick feet.

“Jordan’s impact initially as a freshman will be as a defender,” Brey says. “We have enough players on this team who are going to score points for us, so what Jordan has to do is concentrate on being a defensive specialist. With his length and quickness, he’ll be another shot-blocking threat for us when he is on the court. All Jordan has to worry about when he comes in is improving his defensive play. That’s how he is going to battle for playing time this season.”

Backcourt
The return of veteran players David Graves and Matt Carroll and the addition of rookie Chris Thomas will give the Irish a backcourt which features speed, versatility, depth and experience. The Notre Dame perimeter game should once again flourish with the return of Graves and Carroll, two of the top three-point shooting threats in the BIG EAST.

Graves was the team’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged a single-season personal best of 13.8 points, while also grabbing 4.7 rebounds per game. He ranked second on the team (behind Carroll) in three-point field goals made with 62 and connected on 42.4 percent of his shots overall from the field. Graves also finished as the team’s stealsleader with 49.

Brey looks for the 6-6, 208-pound senior from Lexington, Ky., to embrace his role as a team leader and captain. The loss of Murphy in the post will clear out that the area underneath the basket and should give Graves more open areas to score from. He showed the most improvement in his game by becoming a more disciplined defender.

“I like David’s attitude because he is prepared to help lead our team this season,” Brey says. “He wants to be a leader and captain on this squad. David has matured a great deal since the beginning of last season.

“In addition to being a scorer, we need him to be a strong rebounder and good defender. David went from being a gambler on defense to a disciplined defender. He has to continue to be tough mentally.”

Carroll made tremendous strides a year ago as a sophomore, he is perhaps the most complete player on the team in terms of his offensive and defensive skills. He was Notre Dame’s fourth-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder last season as he averaged 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds, both career bests. In addition to leading the team in three-point field goals made and three-point field goal percentage, Carroll finished second on the team in both the assists (2.4) and steals (0.9) columns.

The 6-6, 210-pound junor has started all but seven games during his career and has played in all 67 contests. A 30-game starter a year ago, he is a seasoned veteran who head coach Mike Brey believes will emerge as a truly outstanding collegiate guard over the next two seasons.

“Matt is a real leader with a tremendous presence on the floor with this team both offensively and defensively,” Brey says. “He does so many things well on such a consistent basis. We need him to be an aggressive offensive player for us as well as a big-time defender and strong rebounder.

“Matt’s going to be very instrumental in Chris Thomas’ development as a player this season. In terms of his own development as a player, its going to be scary because I believe that he has all the fundamentals to be a very good college guard.”

Torrian Jones may be one of the team’s most improved players when the upcoming campaign begins. He played well at the end of his rookie campaign averaging 1.3 points and 0.7 rebounds and saw important playing minutes toward the end of the season. The 6-4, 185-pound product of Fairless Hills, Pa. gives the Irish tremendous depth off the bench as both a shooter, ballhandler and defender.

“I feel very comfortable with the progress Torrian has made since the start of his rookie season and where he is as a player heading into this year,” Brey says. “He is very confident in his abilities. What Torrian has learned to do is keep it simple, he now understands how to make his shot come to him than him hunting for it.”

The arrival of Chris Thomas has generated great enthusiasm and anticipation. He is the first Mr. Basketball in Indiana to attend Notre Dame, As a freshman, Thomas will have the responsibility of running the Irish team in transition and breaking down opposing defense. Brey anticipates that with Thomas in the lineup, the 6-1, 165-pound point guard will get Notre Dame up the floor quicker and in transition faster.

Thomas averaged 23.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.7 steals as he led his Pike team to the Class 4-A state crown for the second time in his scholastic career. He will play a lot of minutes for the Irish, and the key this season will be for him to pace himself.

“Chris certainly is going to see his share of playing time,” Brey says. “I think he is physically capable of handling it because he is such a great athlete. Pacing him during the season is going to be important both physically and mentally. I’m confident that he is ready for the challenges of what we are going to throw at him this year.

“He is able to generate his offense in a number of different ways — on the inside and from the perimeter. Chris is going to be a spark for us at both ends of the floor. He’s a creator who can change the tempo and style of play in a game.”

After being sidelined with a knee injury, Chris Markwood is looking to establish his role on this Irish team. The 6-5, 185-pound point guard from South Portland, Me., will have a strong defensive presence on the court, especially on the perimeter. A former Mr. Basketball in Maine, Markwood averaged 16.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in his senior season.

When Thomas is out of the game, look for Markwood to play in his spot. He’s more comfortable than Jones handling the ball and quarterbacking the team in the backcourt.

“Im excited about how far along Chris Markwood has come and that his is healthy again,” Brey says. “He worked hard extremely hard to get himself back to the point last season where he was able to practice with us the last couple of months. We went from knowing what his status was going to be to anticipating that he is going to help us out this season.”

Charles Thomas begins his fourth season as a walk-on with the program. A competive player, the 5-11, 160-pound product of Flint, Mich., is a key individual on the team because of his work ethic and the way he challenges his teammates in practice.

PRESEASON NOTES
The Captains:
Seniors David Graves, Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan will serve as Notre Dame’s tri-captains for the 2001-02 campaign. Both natives of the state of Kentucky, Graves and Swanagan hail from Lexington and Hopkinsville, respectively, Graves averaged 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds last season, while Swanagan netted 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. Humphrey was the second-leading scorer and rebounder for the Irish a year ago with averages of 14.1 points and 9.0 rebounds.

First Year Success For Brey:
Notre Dame’s 19 wins during the regular season under Mike Brey represented the most wins by an Irish coach in his first season. He also became just the second coach in school history to take his team to the NCAA Tournament in his first year as a head coach and the only first-year coach to lead his team for a first-round victory. John Dee also made the tournament in his first season in 1964-65, but lost in the first round to finish 15-12.

Wing-ing It:
The perimeter play of outside shooters David Graves and Matt Carroll give the Irish a deadly three-point shooting arsenal. The duo made 127 (57.9 percent) of Notre Dame’s 219 three-point field goals last season and attempted 323 of team’s 570 shots from beyond the arc. Carroll shot 40.9 percent from three-point range, while Graves made 37.8 percent of his attempts.

Ironmen:
David Graves and Harold Swanagan have played in all 97 contests during their Irish careers — neither one has missed a game. They saw action in 30 games as freshmen and juniors and played in 37 contests in their sophomore season. Graves has earned 81 starting appearances during this three seasons, while Swanagan has made 51 starts.

Block Party:
Notre Dame set the single-season team record for blocked shots last season with 178 in 30 games for an average of 5.93 blocks per game. The previous mark of 145 was set by the 1991-92 Irish team. Notre Dame had 110 blocks during the 1999-2000 campaign. Ryan Humphrey led the Irish with 79 blocks, the second-highest individual single-season mark in school history and ranked 18th in the nationally with 2.7 blocks per game.

Defense, Defense:
Notre Dame ranked 10th nationally in field goal percentage defense as the Irish opponents shot just 39.3 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from three-point range. Only one opponent, Indiana, shot above 50.0 percent from the field against the Irish, while four teams — Indiana (53.3), Miami of Ohio (45.3), Rutgers (49.1) and Connecticut (49.2) – shot better than 45.0 percent from the field against the Irish last season. The last Notre Dame team to hold opponents to under 40.0 percent shooting was the 1996-97 squad (39.4).

A Big East Moment For The Irish:
Notre Dame’s eight consecutive BIG EAST wins last season against Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Rutgers and Virginia Tech marked the first time since the Irish joined the league in 1995-96 that they posted eight straight wins over league foes. Notre Dame also finished the season six games above the .500 mark for the first time since becoming a league member.

Big East Moment II For Irish:
Notre Dame’s five straight road wins at Georgetown (78-71 on Jan. 27), Pittsburgh (75-67 on Feb. 3), West Virginia (69-66 on Feb. 11), Rutgers (81-59 on Feb. 14) and Virginia Tech (85-61 on Feb. 24) marked the first time since the Irish joined the BIG EAST they had won five consecutive road games in the league.

Mr. Indiana:
Freshman point guard Chris Thomas is the first Mr. Basketball from Indiana to attend Notre Dame. He played in the McDonald’s All-American game and was a fourth team Parade All-American honoree. He led high Pike high school team to the Class 4-A state championship as a senior after averaging 23.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.7 steals. Thomas is the 12th McDonald’s All-American to attend Notre Dame.

Miller Time:
Dan Miller, a 6-8, 220-pound guard/forward from Mt. Holly, N.J, has transferred to Notre Dame from the University of Maryland following three seasons. He has one year of eligibility remaining with the 2002-03 campaign. Miller was a former McDonald’s and Parade All-American at Rancocas Valley High School.