Senior Citizens

Mike Brey has been impressed with the way leadership of his senior class and with the responses that they have generated as people away from the court. Kyle McAlarney, Luke Zeller, Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland will be honored on Senior Day when Notre Dame hosts St. John's on Friday night.

Kyle McAlarney is struck with a different type of senioritis when he thinks about playing his final regular season home game at the Joyce Center on Friday against St. John's.

"It kind of makes me a little sick to my stomach to be honest, like physically sick," he said. "I actually almost threw up the other day thinking about it, literally.

"It's crazy. This place really means a lot to me and this program means a lot to me. It's pretty much been my whole life the time that I was here. The emotions are going to be flying high on Friday."

McAlarney, along with classmates Ryan Ayers, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies before the game and the foursome will start with junior forward Luke Harangody against the Red Storm.

Head coach Mike Brey has been impressed with the journey of each of his four seniors.

"We've had different routes. Hillesland and Ayers weren't part of things much as freshmen, but worked their way in and became key guys," said Brey. "McAlarney was a key guy then we lost him for a while and then he came back. He's been a great story, that's been documented.

"Zeller's been a guy that we've tried to do a little bit of everything with. Do we move him inside? Do we move him outside? Do we start him? Do we bring him off the bench? To his credit, he's had a great attitude. He's accepted any role we've tried to put him in to help us and help him."

In their four years in South Bend, the group managed a 38-31 record in league play, not including Friday's game, and have made two NCAA Tournaments and an National Invitational Tournament with another postseason appearance for certain this year.

"They've meant a lot to our program and they've really represented us well and I've been very proud," said Brey.

Still, there is a sense of disappointment with the final season for this group of seniors.

"It hurts that we kind of can't have as good of a season now as we wanted to early in the season as far as the record goes, there's still some opportunities," said McAlarney. "But I want us to be remembered as we were Notre Dame guys, four-year guys obviously and we made the program better."

Ayers said that the players have too much respect for each other to quit now.

"We love each other so much that we just kind of pick each other up and be there for each other. We still have games left and we still have something to play for," he said. "It's been tough, but something that I think we can handle."

Zeller admitted that it has not been easy to treat Friday's game like any other home game.

"You try and just go through the everyday mix of things and it's not quite the same," he said.

McAlarney agreed that even his queasy stomach has not prevented him from thinking about the big picture.

"It's hard not to. It's hard to focus on the task at hand, absolutely," said McAlarney. "As much as it's hard to kind of flush that stuff out, we need the win."

But Hillesland is confident that the group will settle in to capture that win when game time rolls around.

"I think the seniors are pretty focused as far as what we have to do and are excited to get out there and play maybe for the last time, maybe not," he said.

There is a chance, in fact a likelihood, that this group of seniors will be back at the Joyce Center for at least one more game in the NIT. Still, the seniors recognize now as a time to appreciate their last four years and most of their memories come from their time away from the court.

"It's going to be all teammate-based," said Hillesland. "Certainly we had some on-court memories here and there, but if anyone asks me about my time at Notre Dame what my favorite thing was, it's always going to be the teammates I've had and the friendships that I developed."

Same for McAlarney.

"The losses, the wins, that doesn't stick. What sticks is the relationships in the locker room and the memories with the guys on the team," said McAlarney. "The pranks and all of that, that's the kind stuff that I think I'll remember the most. But like I said, the losses and the wins, that stuff really doesn't stick. It may stick now and it may hurt now, but I think the relationships with the guys means the most."

"A lot of basketball memories, but a lot of stuff of the court," said Ayers. "Just joking around with them and being ourselves, that's probably the most fun part."

Ayers, especially, will remember the pranks that were pulled, many of which were pulled on him.

"People scaring each other in alleys," said Ayers, who obviously did not increase his guard after being scared in a Chicago alley last year. "We were in Connecticut and Zach hid in my closet after we got back from a team meal and scared me."

Brey will also remember some of the things that the group accomplished off the court.

"When I go around campus or I'm in the community in the spring or summer and professors at a restaurant say, ‘Hey, I had Zeller and Ayers in class. Really gentlemen.' That means a lot to me," Brey said. "Those guys really represent you well and I think they've represented our university well."

Those compliments have come off campus as well on a couple of the team's chartered flights.

"Two or three times the flight attendant has come up and said, ‘You know we fly a lot of teams Coach, but you guys are really gentlemen,'" said Brey. "I give them that feedback because I think that's part of our mission here too."

Brey had the foursome and their families to his house for dinner on Wednesday night.

"I like to get them out just privately two nights before the game, a night before the game. Their families are in. Just have dinner there and just talk a little about all of the experiences," he said. "I like to just listen and hear the different things and obviously we'll end up laughing a lot too.

"A lot of times the best memories of your life are the four years riding the bus, in the locker room, getting the pizzas after the game, the tough practice, the funny practice. Those are the experiences that when guys come back to reunions they go, ‘God, I miss it.'"

None of the four is quite sure how they will respond when they are introduced on Friday.

"It's going to be very emotional because you kind of dedicate, commit yourself to this program and to have shared the experience with these guys has been pretty awesome," said Ayers.

McAlarney and Hillesland are confident that they will not break into tears like last year's lone senior Rob Kurz did.

"I've always been kind of good at keeping my emotions in check and staying within myself," said McAlarney. "It's going to be very hard, probably the toughest that I've ever had to deal with on Friday, but I think we'll be okay because this game means a lot more for our season right now."

"I don't usually view myself as very sentimental. I could say that now, but who knows what's going to happen when they call my name out and I walk out with my mom and sister," Hillesland said. "I think I'll have my emotions in check, but you never really know until you get out there."

Zeller knows how he wants his class to be remembered.

"Real simple, I hope we left the place better than it was when we came," he said. "My parents always told me if you ever borrow anything or if you're ever at some place, make sure you give it back better than it was before. I hope that I gave it back better than it was when I got here." Top Stories