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Men’s Basketball: Coach dreams of dancing

Chris Khorey | Thursday, October 12, 2006

After losing its leading scorer and leading rebounder from last season, Notre Dame is in the process of forming a new team identity.But the Irish aren’t alone.Nineteen of the 22 players from last year’s All-Big East team are no longer playing college basketball due to graduation or early entry into the NBA draft. The conference is wide open, and Irish coach Mike Brey was confident at Wednesday’s media day that even without Chris Quinn and Torin Francis, his young squad can have a successful season.And, in the process, it might even “steal” a bid to the NCAA Tournament.”There’s no reason we can’t dream big dreams,” Brey said. “I don’t want anyone on this team selling themselves short because we haven’t gotten an NCAA bid the last couple years.”Notre Dame finished 16-14 overall (6-10 in the Big East) last season and fell 87-84 to Michigan in overtime in the second round of the NIT – its third appearance in the consolation tournament in as many years.”You don’t get anything for coming close [to an NCAA bid] and no one knows that better than us,” Brey said. On media day last year, Brey emphasized that reaching the Big East tournament was his team’s only focus. But that’s no longer the attitude. Senior guard Colin Falls said he and fellow senior guard Russell Carter are determined to get to the NCAAs in their final season.”The reason I came to play college basketball was to play in the Tournament and we haven’t done that yet,” said Falls, who is Notre Dame’s leading returning scorer (13.8 points per game in 2005-06).Ten of Notre Dame’s losses last year came by less than five points. Brey made conditioning an emphasis this summer in hopes that the team will be less fatigued at the end of games.”We have to use last year as a reference point or a teaching tool,” he said. “We need to be tougher at key moments.”The Irish coaching staff took advantage of new NCAA rules allowing them to regulate summer practices by increasing the amount of daily running.”We thought that we should have them run, get them up early, and generally make it harder. I think it paid off,” Brey said. “They’re all in great shape, and when you’re in great shape you’re more confident.”Brey also said the additional conditioning helped hone players’ skills because they were able to spend more time working on specific parts of their game.”The best way to get better at basketball is to repeat a skill over and over again,” Brey said. “When you can repeat a skill for an hour rather than just 20 minutes and not get tired, that helps.”The extra summer work should pay off during games. Brey said the Irish will play a more up-tempo style this season to use the talents of quick guards like Carter, sophomore Kyle McAlarney and freshman Tory Jackson.”I love to run. I love to just roll the balls out and play,” McAlarney said. “Going up and down the floor seems to be the best fit for our team.”McAlarney will step into the role vacated by Quinn, who led Notre Dame with 17.7 points per game last season. The point guard was also looked to as the squad’s emotional leader, putting multiple games on his shoulders and taking responsibility for their outcomes.”I feel like everyone’s looking to me the way [the team] looked to Chris Quinn,” McAlarney said. “I’m very comfortable with the leadership role. I love it.”Carter said he is excited to be able to use his slashing style of play in more transition opportunities this season.”When you’re in transition, it’s like running through chaos, and I love chaos,” he said. “It’s just easier than when everyone’s back in the half court.”Stepping into Francis’ shoes on the low post will be sophomore Luke Zeller. Zeller averaged 13.7 minutes per game last season, and played in Taiwan over the summer – winning gold in the Athletes in Action tournament.”Being able to play nine games in nine days, I was able to learn a lot of things,” he said of his experience.Junior forward Rob Kurz will also be called upon to help in the frontcourt, especially with his rebounding.”[Kurz is] our hardest worker,” Brey said. “Our guys really look to him. He’s made himself into a legitimate Big East forward.”The Irish open their season with exhibitions against Rockhurst Nov. 1 and Bellarmine Nov. 6 at the Joyce Center. They begin the regular season against IPFW at home Nov. 10.