Players Talk Ireland

Will people recognize Notre Dame basketball star Luke Harangody in Ireland?

In one year, the 6-foot-8 forward went from being an unknown guy outside the Joyce Center, to the Big East Player of the Year, an All-American and a household name.

"I really don't feel like a celebrity," Harangody said. Last season, he averaged 20.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, in leading the Irish to a 25-8 record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament. "I think these guys on the team keep me pretty much grounded. We'll go out, people will say stuff and stuff like that."

If the Ireland natives don't already know who Harangody is, a 13-day, six-game exhibition tour as part of the inaugural Emerald Hoops program could change that.

The Irish basketball team began practice on Aug. 4th, and left the country on Tuesday. They will play games in Dublin, Limerick, Clare and Belfast before returning to the States.

"This is kind of a tease right now," Harangody said. "We're going to get back from Ireland and the season is still going to be real far away. I'm in that mode right now mentally, where I think I'm in season.

"This 10 days of practice, I feel like we're ready to go into Big East season right now. This is so much of a head start for us, it's going to be great for us."

Working out the kinks: With no freshmen being integrated into the program this coming season, and with the two transfers not being allowed to practice and play on this exhibition tour, Mike Brey and his veteran team have been able to use these extra practices as a spring board into the coming season, and not really go back to any basics.

Normally, the team is only playing pickup this time of year. NCAA rules don't allow programs to begin practicing until October, but this Ireland trip has allowed the team to meet this month.

"This is an advantage we have over a lot of other teams," junior point guard Tory Jackson began. "Communication wise, we'll be together more than other teams will. If everything works out, we'll be ahead of the game a lot faster than any Big East team or any other regular season team we play.

"Defensively yes," Kyle McAlarney pointed to another area the team's been able to work on. Last year the Irish led the Big East in scoring, 3-point shooting, and assists, but ranked near the bottom in points allowed per game. "Playing as a team defensively, we're really working on that and stopping people and getting stops. It's good for us to start this early. Offensively, we're picking up right where we left off last season."

Tough Schedule Ahead: This extra practices the NCAA has allowed couldn't come at a better time for Notre Dame. This coming season, the Irish will play one of their tougher schedules in recent years.

The season begins at the Maui Invitational, where Notre Dame joins North Carolina, Alabama, Oregon, Texas, Indiana, St. Joseph's and host Chaminade. UCLA is back on the schedule, and so is a neutral site game against Ohio State. Then of course, there is league play.

"I think it's a veteran group and an older group," Harangody said. "We take that as motivation. Our schedule that's coming, we love it. We love playing the UCLAs, we love going to Indy to play Ohio State, especially Maui, and I think everyone is excited, and it's made us work that much harder in the off-season."

International Play: There are some differences in the game play the Irish will have to adjust to in Ireland.

One of the biggest changes for everybody but Luke Zeller is the FIBA ball. Zeller has played in Taiwan and Australia over the past two summers.

"I think these are a little different than the ones I've used the last two summers," Zeller said. "These ones here, they almost feel plastic because they're so slick. Those ones over there are a little more broke in. I kind of like the ones we played with the last two summers over there."

Before practice on Tuesday, McAlarney was inside the Pit, getting in some extra shooting before the workout and boarding the plane.

"I've been working out with them for about two weeks now," McAlarney said. His 108 3-pointers led the league last season. "I'm used to them. I kind of like them now that they're kind of broken in. At first they were a little weird, a little awkward. I like them now."

The team will play four 10-minute quarters instead of the customary halves, and will also have to adjust to a 24-second shot clock, 11 seconds less than what they're used to working with.

"I think pretty well, better than I thought," Brey said of the adjustment. "We want to play fast anyways. It's a great teaching tool to be playing with this clock. What it has done is, we've gotten more poised and we're better in a low-clock situations because it comes up so much. When you play the 35-second clock, even though you practice it some, it doesn't come up much and there is sometimes a violation or a bad shot when there is six seconds on the shot clock and they think six is one.

"I think they're understanding that five seconds and four seconds in the half court is a lot of time to still get something good," Brey continued. "You can still swing the ball and get something good. What I feel good about is that we've played faster and we haven't turned it over much more. We've been pretty good with the ball. So that's probably been the biggest thing, just the speed of it."

"It's definitely a little quicker but we're always trying to play fast anyways," McAlarney added. "We'll fit right in with that 24-second shot clock."

The team also has to be prepared for the trapezoid lane.

"The trapezoid lane has been a nice teaching point because you actually have, Harangody especially, is pushed off the block a little bit naturally," Brey explained. "He's going to be pushed off physically we know, he's having to square up a little more, face up and drive from 10 feet than back to the basket moves. Things he's worked on this summer and he's really had to use them more with this lane. Just watching the first two days, it's interesting that's come up a lot with the rules and dimensions of the game."

In practice, Brey laughed that players have been trying to put back missed free throws that are still in the cylinder with dunks, because international goaltending rules allow that as well.

Equal Opportunity: Though guys like Zach Hillesland, Jonathan Peoples, Ryan Ayers, Harangody, Jackson, McAlarney and Zeller will get their chance to shine in Ireland, Brey knows he can count on those seven guys this coming season. He is hoping to learn more about his younger players, Tyrone Nash, Carleton Scott, Tim Andree, Tim Abromaitis and Ty Proffitt, who didn't play much or at all last year.

"I don't know if it will be completely even like basketball camp or intramurals," Brey said of the minutes, "but no one is going to be logging too many miles. I don't want Harangody and McAlarney and Jackson to have too many miles on those wheels right now. It's a long road and with the schedule we're playing. But the young guys will get a lot of playing time. It's good they're in shape because they're going to play."


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