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Three new players make the Irish deep and dangerous

Pat Leonard | Thursday, August 19, 2004

Mike Brey was not allowed to observe his team in scrimmages this summer, but he knows the team has improved.Guards Chris Quinn and Chris Thomas told him so.”I can’t watch the summer pick-up games, so those guys are my eyes,” Brey said. “[But] when you think of our current roster, you have to get excited.”His eyes see potential major improvement for the program’s 100th anniversary season in the form of three newcomers to complete a possible nine-man deep rotation.Quinn and Thomas told their coach that the additions of red-shirt freshman Omari Israel, senior transfer Dennis Latimore and true freshman Rob Kurz have made the Irish a better team despite the loss of defensive ace Torrian Jones and Tom Timmermans. Moreover, the elders of the team think all three should play, even the young Kurz.”Talking to the older guys, when they say, ‘He can help us right away coach,’ that’s 90 percent of what I need to hear,” Brey said. “If Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn say [Kurz is] ready to play, he’s ready to play.Kurz, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound small forward, averaged 18.5 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in his senior season at Penn Charter just outside of Philadelphia last winter. He attended Germantown Academy for the first two years of high school and then transferred to Penn Charter and played three seasons. An extra year could help the freshman with in-game maturity.”In Rob Kurz, our lone incoming freshman, you’re talking about a guy who has good size but a really good feel for the game at 6-9,” Brey said. “He steps out and shoots the ball. He plays older. He plays more experienced and more poised than his classification says he should.”Brey compares Kurz’s style of play to that of senior forward Jordan Cornette, a tall and athletic player who can jump for rebounds with big men and play outside the three-point line.Cornette, Thomas, Quinn and center Torin Francis will captain the Irish this season. Other key contributors in the 100th anniversary season will be sophomore shooting guard Colin Falls and power forward Rick Cornett, who underwent surgery on a stress fracture in his left foot July 23 but is expected to return in time for the first official practice Oct. 16.As is the case with Kurz, returning players from last season will split minutes with two other additions to the roster.Omari Israel, a 6-foot-8, 232-pound, recovered from knee surgery during his red-shirt 2003 season that stemmed from a torn ACL surgery in February of 2003. The Irish sat him out, feeling comfortable with players like Jones and Cornette in the lineup. But Brey now compares a healthy Israel to one of the Big East’s most durable players.”I’d compare [Israel] to [Pittsburgh guard] Jaron Brown,” he said.Brown averaged 11.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season for a 31-5 Pittsburgh team, playing 34.4 minutes per game. Brown shot just 21.5 percent from three-point range but compensated for a lack of outside shooting threat with a 48.8 overall field goal percentage and 65 steals on the defensive end.”Omari gives us the big three man,” Brey said. “He has good size and really can handle the basketball. He’s more of a slasher and a driver, and when he is that third perimeter guy it’s tough to guard and block out because of his size.”Brey does not only liken Israel to Brown on the offensive end, either.”He has the ability to be a lockdown defender,” Brey said. “He has to get the mentality to defend much like a Torrian Jones could. [Jones] did it physically but dove into it and embraced another aspect of his game.”While Israel could contribute on both ends, a complete player the Irish also welcome with open arms is Latimore, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound transfer from Arizona.”We expect [Latimore] to be a key part of things,” Brey said. “He is very skilled and talented around the bucket, very smooth. The challenge with him will be playing hard every play. But as far as the physical gifts, he had a great summer.”Latimore averaged 24 points as the Kansas 3A Player of the Year for Halstead high school his senior year then played less of an offensive role at Arizona, primarily because the teams were loaded with talent.Latimore averaged 3.2 points and 3.1 rebounds for the Wildcats in 2002, playing just 12 minutes per game. His role this season, will be increased. Latimore and junior center Torin Francis will team up in an imposing frontcourt that Thomas and Quinn will look to often.” “Dennis is in the best shape of his life,” Brey said. “And he is very focused.”So, too, are Brey’s eyes, though they take the form of his two top guards.

Notesu Chris Thomas underwent knee surgery at the end of last season and did not go full speed in practice until he was cleared by doctors last week. Thomas has not complained about the knee so far.