Bidding to Return

Irish head coach Mike Brey met with the media Thursday to discuss the upcoming basketball season.

Note: This is the first of three columns covering Notre Dame Basketball Media Day. Parts II and III will appear Sunday and Monday as IrishEyes wraps-up its game day coverage of the ND/USC matchup.

Dark? Yes, but it Used to Rock

The 2009-10 Irish will debut five newcomers in November (four freshman and junior transfer Ben Hansbrough) as well as two little used, former redshirts in Carleton Scott and Tim Abromaitis.

But the unveiling most Irish fans and those around the program have anticipated is that of the new Purcell Pavilion – a much-need renovation of the antiquated Joyce Center.

"I walked through the arena this morning," Brey began as he sat down with the local media. "I think our players are really excited to see that place. That's energizing, really.

"I'm in awe of what they got done in five months. It's bright. I don't think I realized how dark the old place was with those bleachers up top. I think it's an exciting time to see that finished.

"The older guys are really excited about getting in this place. They've been peaking in it all summer. And peaking in it the last month. I'm happy for them. So many people talk about this arena's (impact) with recruiting…I'm really excited for the current team and the current guys to get in and get to play in Purcell Pavilion.

Plus That Guy's Brother Played Forever…

While the arena is certainly a drawing point, the product on the shiny new floor is of greater interest to legions of Irish fans – a disappointed contingent after last year's underachieving campaign.

"These guys have been playing basketball and working out together since June 20," Brey state. "The way the calendar is set up you have your group together for awhile; I've only seen them four times together in some workout sessions.

"We're still kind of old," Brey reminded the gathering. "We lost four seniors who were really key guys for us and really good players and great representatives of the University and the program. But we're still really experienced.

"When you add Hansbrough; Abromaitis in his third year; Scott in his third year; certainly Tyrone Nash…we have some experience. And anytime you're old in college basketball, and anytime you're old in the league we've signed up to play in, you always have a shot."

Brey has added excitement at the outset of the season and believe Irish fans share that outlook as a relatively new team prepares to take the court.

"The interesting thing about being old for you and our fans: you haven't seen some of the old guys that much. None of you have seen Hansbrough, so that's exciting for you and for us as a coaching staff. Nash in a bigger role. Scott and Abromaitis – how do these older guys who've been around college basketball for at least three years – how do they work into how we want to play?

"I think that's something that we really have to evaluate as a coaching staff over the next month and certainly over the pre-season schedule. But just like for you guys (the media) and our fans; there's a little bit of evaluation of our players because we have some new names to plug in with some old names."

The Irish will play Lewis and Quincy in exhibition games November 1st and 6th at the new Purcell Pavilion.

No Longer Just Ballast for the Bench

The Irish suffered a blow before the season's opening tip when highly-touted transfer Scott Martin was lost for the season with a torn ACL (Martin will have surgery next Tuesday and is expected to resume conditioning in six months).

Who does Brey expect to fill Martin's void in the rotation?

"I think Tim Abromaitis is a kid I've been impressed with in the four (allowable) sessions that I've been with the team in September," Brey observed. "Our older guys feel – our seniors have always been great evaluators of which younger guys are going to be ready to join the party – that here's a guy that's ready to join our program.

"He's 6'7" 235 pounds and that older group that graduated as well as Luke and Tory, and Jon (Peoples) have done a good job of bringing him along because they've always felt he could help us.

"He's going to get every opportunity to do that and I think this month is to get him confident."

Also in line for a major increase in playing time is small forward (and athlete) Carleton Scott.

"It's his third year in our program," Brey reminded the media of the little-used Scott. "When we're asking these guys to deliver for us we're not asking them as 18-yard olds who have only been on our campus for a couple of months.

"So I really feel they're ready to do that. They've paid their dues. They've been patient. They've been frustrated at times as young guys are in our program because many of them have had to wait for their turn to get in there."

And what about the versatile junior of whom Irish fans have clamored for over the last two conference seasons?

"And then I haven't mentioned Ty Nash because I think of our three seniors and Ty Nash as guys that have been in the battles. Ty Nash comes back as a much more confident guy."

For those of you wondering about the potential depth of Brey's notoriously shallow bench brigade:

"And then you get down to the freshman, the bigger kids, our bigger freshman…who will establish themselves in our rotation," Brey wondered. "I'm interested to get about four or five practices under our belt and really evaluate those guys."

Brey will likely tinker with his rotation on a game-by-game basis during the season's opening month as the Irish play seven home games (including two exhibitions) in a period of 24 days before playing two games at the UIC Pavillion over Thanksgiving weekend as part of the Chicago Classic.

The Irish will face Northwestern on Friday the 27th and then take on either Iowa State or Saint Louis on the 28th.

Playing Big

The loss of the 6'8" Martin not only limits the Irish overall offensive power, it makes the Irish a little smaller in a league full of opponents that can punish teams on the offensive glass.

Brey has an early answer for this dilemma.

"We would have played the three guards together some if Martin was with us anyway," Brey offered. "I think that's (now) something we really have to look at a bunch.

"Those three guards (Hansbrough, Jackson and Peoples), they're all 22 years old; it's their fourth year in college basketball and they've got good strength and size.

"Even if you give up some size in some matchups you have strength and maturity (with those guards). We have to really look at that a little more. The first thing that came to mind when Scott (Martin) went down and we got the verdict on him was: those three senior guards (need) heavy doses together.

Can We Get Him for Four More Years?

Brey finished his opening monologue without mentioning one of the program's all-time greats. A player who offered the program not only hope for 2009-10, but a bridge to the future as Luke Harangody withdrew his name from the NBA Draft to finish his college career in style.

The summer addition affords the Irish a fighting chance every night.

"That was probably a key recruit in June," Brey mused.

"He handled that six-week period really well," said Brey of Harangody's dalliance with the NBA draft. "He got better. He's a better college player for putting his name in the draft. It helped him.

"He's a more confident player. I think one of the things he didn't know he'd miss when he was considering leaving was being a senior captain and leading a team."

"I don't know if we've had two stronger personalities in my 10 years than those two guys," Brey continued while speaking of Harangody and senior point guard Tory Jackson). "I think that gives you a chance to do some things."

A trimmer Harangody returned to campus in the summer not only ready to compete, but to mentor a trio of freshman big men.

"He's in great shape; he's ready to go," Brey said. "He's been good with the three young big guys, our freshmen. He's been a good mentor with those three young big guys throughout the summer and the fall and I think that's made him a better player."

Mike Broghammer (6'9" 245); Jack Cooley (6'9" 244); and Tom Knight (6'9" 251) will fight for at least one spot in the early-season rotation for the Irish.

Something in the Water?

Last year's veteran Irish squad could shoot the rock. They could pass it. And they rarely turned it over, finishing first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio.

But they struggled to help Harangody on the boards and feigned indifference defensively vs. teams dedicated to getting to the basket.

That could change with an addition from Poplar Bluff, MO.

"There are some similarities because he can shoot the ball," Brey offered (with emphasis) of Hansbrough, the team's new shooting guard and Mississippi State transfer when asked to compare the junior to departed sharp-shooter Kyle McAlarney.

"McAlarney shot it at a clip that was kind of off the…(charts)…Ben's pretty close. And I would say if you asked SEC coaches, Ben's percentage if it's a big shot: it's really high. That was his reputation at Mississippi State for two years – he made all the big shots.

"He's taller (than McAlarney) and he's got some driving ability to get to the basket which I think can help us. We couldn't always get to the bucket from the perimeter last year and I think he gives us a dimension that can do that.

Speaking of new dimensions…

"He'll get fouled; he rebounds well for a guard. We've had a couple of practices where he's had 5-6 rebounds. I think he can help us in that department as well."

While the McAlarney shooting comparisons intriguing, of major interest to Irish fans is the off-guard's requisite comparison to his National Title-winning brother, Tyler, aka, "Psyco-T."

"He's got the same ticker; the same motor," said Brey of the younger Hansbrough. "He's coming at you like a Jackson and a Harangody. There's a great competitive streak there. If you have three guys cut from that cloth…that's a pretty good start."

From the Horses Mouth: Harangody on Hansbrough

Notre Dame's top dog has had a chip on his shoulder since (at least) his television debut vs. Butler in the second game of his freshman season.

Luke Harangody scored 17 points and grabbed 6 boards in 20 minutes in that two-point loss. That Irish team left Indianapolis and proceeded to win 11 of 16 Big East contests because it made a commitment to winning the hustle points. That approach continued through 2008 and a shocking 14-win conference campaign.

Last season, the Irish struggled to survive in the powerful Big East without a compliment for Harangody's now-famous intensity level.

The formerly feeble Irish might have an answer for penetrating guards this season.

"I think that's one of the things we need to improve from last year," Harangody admitted of a leaky Irish defense last season. "We got knocked for our defense a lot. Ben coming in here kind of took that personally and our identity might change this year."

Harangody added that Tyrone Nash should add eight rebounds per contest as the Irish attempt to return to competency on the glass.

Back Where They Belong

After January disappointment gave way to February disbelief and a seven-game losing streak last season, interest in an Irish hoops program that had peaked during the school's record-setting home winning streak plummeted, as losses mounted and what seemed like a end-season given – a third straight berth in the NCAA Tournament – spiraled down the drain.

With the return of Harangody and Jackson, and the infusion of the aforementioned new blood, Brey, his staff, and players have embraced the opportunity to return to the Dance this March.

"We're excited about making a run at an NCAA Tournament bid. That's always something we've talked about here.

"We strive to do it every year. Realistically, can we make a run at one of the bids that will come out of the Big East? Yes, we can do that, even with Scott Martin not part of the equation.

"It will be a little tougher, but with the experience; some older guys, we have a chance to do that.

Note: Look for two more columns reviewing Irish Basketball media day after the smoke clears from Saturday's battle on the gridiron with the rival Trojans.


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