So You're Saying There's a Chance?

Luke Harangody's return for his senior season provides a lift for Irish fans as well as the program.

I began my sportswriting career in 1997 as a correspondent for The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph, MI. One Saturday afternoon I covered a football game between Lake Michigan Catholic and Watervliet. LMC (as I'm sure you recall) won 7-6 due largely to a 38-carry, 145-yard rushing effort by its best player.

How is this possibly relevant? In the post-game interview, LMC coach Phil Brooks answered my question about his star player with this simple, yet sage observation:

"He allows us to have a team."

12 years later, that same musing applies to Luke Harangody and the 2009-10 Notre Dame Basketball squad. He allows them to have a team next year.

Without Harangody in the fold the Irish would play 18 conference games with a distinct possibility of a loss in each of them. The proud Irish wouldn't finish last – veteran teams tend to fight and scratch when pushed around and there'd be no quit in the group. But by the end of the demanding Big East gauntlet its unlikely any realistic goals would remain other than maybe a first round Conference Tourney upset and the ensuing 24-hour glow.

March would again feature a (NIT) bubble watch; the usual rhetoric of how the team grew under difficult circumstances; and ultimately, a second step backward for a program recently rescued from college basketball purgatory.

Now there's a chance…a chance that Harangody and fellow seniors Tory Jackson and Jonathan Peoples could leave the program as the class with the most wins in team history. A chance that the late-season development of Tyrone Nash last spring will be relevant next winter. A chance that juniors Carleton Scott and Tim Abromaitis will be allowed to grow into their games while an All American does the heavy lifting. And there's a chance that two promising transfers, guard Ben Hansbrough and forward Scott Martin can help guide the Irish back to a tournament that matters next March.

Harangody explained his decision to return to the college game for a final season in a press conference Monday afternoon. Joined by head coach Mike Brey, Harangody offered that he and his teammates had unfinished business next season, and that the Irish, unlike last year, aren't on anyone's pre-season radar.

Three years ago, Brey's squad led by Colin Falls, Russell Carter, and Harangody as a surprising freshman managed to sneak up on the league with 11 wins in 16 contests. They raised the bar behind Rob Kurz and the return of Kyle McAlarney in Harangody's (and Jackson's) sophomore season with a shocking 14 wins in 18 league games. Last season's disaster wasn't a result of a team not handling pre-season expectations (defense, rebounding, and toughness had a lot more to do with the 8-10 Big East mark than did pre-season pub…) but its hard to argue that Brey's teams don't play better with a chip on their collective shoulder.

The star senior feels that's a good quality to embrace for his final season. "My road's going to be a little more difficult now…I'll have a chip on my shoulder," explained Harangody, who admitted he entered the draft process assuming he had played his final college game. "We have a strong nucleus to make a run," Harangody continued. "Our goals are in line for this year."

Those goals, according to Brey, include a return trip to the Field of 64: "We feel like we can make a run at one of the bids in our league…without those two kids (Hansbrough and Martin) becoming eligible we would have been rebuilding, and I would have told him he had to go (into the draft).

"We're going to be a little better offensively," Brey continued. "I think we can get back to the level of (two previous years) where we're in the high 80s."

Harangody's expanded game will key any resurgence. "I couldn't be more confident in my game right now. My footwork is a lot better – I've never been able to move this well." Harangody admitted his shooting ability is at a career-best level as well.

Harangody's return not only allows the Irish to compete for the top tier of the Conference, but should provide Irish fans with an interesting side show: the chase for two coveted school records…but don't bother asking the teacher or star pupil about individual goals as they (barely) register on the All American's radar.

"I told him he has to come back for the right reasons," explained Brey. "I think it will be refreshing for him to be back in a team concept." (Brey observed the draft process is an inherently "selfish" situation in that a player's only goal is to prove his worth.)

"Luke doesn't care about records…being a senior captain is more important for his career growth and into his life after college."

Harangody echoed Brey's sentiments.

"I don't need to change my game drastically (to impress pro scouts)…I'm looking for wins, not statistics."

While Harangody won't consciously chase Austin Carr's incredible (three-year) scoring record of 2,560 career points, he'll certainly be reminded of his status throughout the season (he needs 738 points to break Carr's mark). Perhaps a better indicator of the success of the upcoming season will be Harangody's final standing on the school's career rebounding list. The senior from Schererville needs 370 rebounds to break Tom Hawkins' mark set in 1959. Assuming a minimum of 30 games, both marks are well within reach. (As Brey joked, "He's got a shot to start").

One Harangody comment proved particularly enticing for Irish fans hoping for a return to the program's recent winning ways in 2010.

"I haven't been in a position where I had to prove myself in awhile…that's only going to make me better this year."

It appears the increased ticket prices of the new Purcell Pavilion will be worth the risk this season after all.


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