Head coach Mike Brey calls Luke Harangody "the perfect storm of athletic ability, psyche, heart, drive and attitude."
After winning Big East Player of the Year honors last season, Harangody is going to get a lot more attention from opponents this year while being asked to even more for his team and the 6-foot-9 junior forward is anxious for the opportunity. The Irish will be counting on Harangody to step up his game on the defensive end with the graduation of Rob Kurz.
"Rob Kurz did a lot of dirty work on that end of the floor guarding the best big guy," said Brey. "He's going to have to be able to be a post defender. Whether he's playing man-to-man or zone when he's matched up on a guy to hold his ground, no dumb fouls, be a consistent defensive rebounder."
Harangody is looking forward to the chance to compete against the league's best inside.
"I'm going to take that as a challenge. I've wanted that. Coach and I talked about it," he said. "This summer, I was in the gym a lot, I was guarding Zach (Hillesland) a lot and a lot of quicker players and I think I'm ready for that. I'm ready to show people that I can guard that type player."
Harangody knows that he will face more and quicker double-teams this year and has improved his passing to deal with it.
"I know that's going to come. A lot of people talk to me about how hard it's going to be, being a target for double-teams or triple-teams," said Harangody. "What's great about that is that I've got a great bunch of guys around me. I've got Kyle (McAlarney) and Ryan (Ayers) on the outside, Zach and Tory (Jackson) and a bunch of playmakers, so it's great."
The offense ran through the forward last season and, according to Brey, it will be the same again this year.
"Him getting low-post touches is really what sets us up. Because you've got to make a decision on him in the low post and then he can go to work one-on-one or make some plays off of that," said Brey. "That's how we play, that's no mystery and that'll be how we continue to play."
The mix of Harangody's presence inside along with the outside threats really makes the Irish dangerous.
"He's also very fortunate in that we can really spread the floor with threats. We have guys that can shoot the ball," said Brey. "You're going to have to make some decisions. I think for him if he has to go the first four or five minutes of a game and not get a shot but he's kicked it out a couple of times, I think he understands that's a good thing. That's good and it'll come back around to him eventually."
Harangody saw the constant double-teams on the trip to Europe.
"It happened all of the way through Ireland," said Brey. "He had double-teams coming quickly so it was a great training ground for him to have to kick out. He's become a much more poised passer from the low post than his early days."
Playing with a 24-second clock in the Ireland exhibitions, there were times when Harangody was unable to reset after kicking it out, but that will not be a problem in the States.
TORY TELLS COACH TO TAKE A SEAT: Brey was convinced during the trip to Ireland that junior point guard Tory Jackson has grown up and is ready to be a coach on the floor for Notre Dame this year.
During one of the exhibition games in Ireland, Brey got angry and was shouting to the players on the floor when his point guard came over and told him to relax.
"I called (Jackson) back over and I said, ‘Now that is the mark of a veteran guard when you tell your coach to sit down and shut up, you'll handle things,'" Brey said.
Jackson gave Brey the credit for creating an atmosphere that encourages players to do that type of thing.
"He's been helping me out at times like that too. That's why I love Coach Brey. He's just one of those coaches that allows you to be able to have that type of openness with him," Jackson said. "If he wasn't as good with his players, I don't think I would be able to say anything like tell him to calm down because he'd probably take me out of the game with the quickness."
It will be Jackson's duty to get Notre Dame into its offense, but after averaging eight points a game a year ago, the point guard is expected to shoulder a heavier load as a scorer this season.
"I certainly want him to be even more aggressive than last year," said Brey. "I think it'll just evolve that he'll become more of a scorer for us and knows that he needs to do that."
Brey said that Jackson has developed a good mid-range jump shot that will give him a weapon in between the three-pointer and the giants.
"I have to take the pressure off of Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody, two of the top scorers in our conference," Jackson said. "We've got Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller, they always come in and perform well. But I feel like I've got to figure out a different way to help my team and get us over the hump when the two main scorers are struggling. They're not going to have perfect games every night."
McALARNEY THE MARKSMAN: Brey made it clear how highly thinks of senior guard McAlarney as a shooter.
"I don't think there's a better shooter in the country, quite frankly. No one would argue in our league and I don't know if anybody would argue outside our league," he said. "But he's really done a great job leading. Now that he was back for a year, Rob gone, I think he set a great tone in Ireland."
McAlarney said that he learned a lot about being a leader from the older guys ahead of him.
"Just be professional about being a leader. Just coming in, do the work everyday, no complaints," McAlarney said. "Telling (younger guys) where to go, how to be, picking them up when we lose or are going through hard times or what not. As a senior, that's the kind of guard that I want to be."
LONGER-DISTANCE 3's SHOULD HELP ND: The NCAA decided to push the three-point line back a foot from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20 feet, 9 inches for the upcoming season and Brey thinks the new distance will be beneficial for the Irish.
"I'm very interested to see some of our opponents, how they shoot the ball with the new line. It really didn't affect us much. We shot from the line in Ireland and we shot right at about the same clip as a team from the three-point line as we did last year," he said. "A guy who was an OK three-point shooter in the league in the past, maybe not so much anymore. Or with the line out a little further, has been discouraged to take it by his coach given the new distance."
If Notre Dame's opponents do have more struggles from the outside it should help the Irish interior defense as they will be able to hang in around the paint more often.
OTHER HOOP HITS: Brey and senior forward/center Luke Zeller had one of the shortest spring meetings ever. "He sat down and I said, 'You're going to have a hell of a year next year,' and he said, ‘Yeah, 'I know, Coach.' I said, ‘Get out of here, I'll see you in the weight room later today.'"
***The next guy in after the top seven will be a sophomore, it is just not clear yet which one. It could be Tyrone Nash, Tim Abromaitis or Carleton Scott and Brey said that it would probably be different guys at different points in the season.
***After leading the country with 18.4 assists last year, Brey has challenged his players to see if they can do it again. He put the assist title plaque up during the first team meeting and said that both he and the team are very proud of it. "I think (the NCAA) has done the statistical assist leader since 1980 and only two or three other teams have repeated. That's the thing I talk to them about, can we repeat?"
***Brey admitted that the weight of the 37-game win streak at the Joyce Center got tough last year, but that it is something that his players take real pride in. "It was a little bit of a distraction in your preparation, but for our guys, it's a real confidence boost."
***The head coach could not be happier as construction has begun on the Joyce Center renovations. "It all kind of comes at a good time. I'm excited to see it finally happen," he said. "Long overdue, we needed to do that. When we joined the Big East in 1995, that's probably something that we should have thought about.
"I'm thrilled. I'm excited for our players, our current guys. Of course, (Colin) Falls and (Russell) Carter said, ‘Coach, I thought we were going to be in that place.' I said, ‘Well, you can come back for the alumni game and be in it.'"