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Basketball Insider: Jackson provides Irish spark

Chris Khorey | Friday, November 17, 2006

In Notre Dame’s second exhibition game against Bellarmine, Tory Jackson got to the free throw line 10 times.

The slashing freshman point guard attacked the basket with regularity, getting to the line and embodying coach Mike Brey’s new up-tempo, aggressive style for the Irish.

“When we push the ball, they’re even going to have to foul us or let us get an easy basket,” Jackson said.

Coming off a 3-of-5, six point performance off the bench against IPFW Nov. 10, Jackson’s energy ignited the Irish each time he entered the game. Brey said Jackson and starting point guard Kyle McAlarney may both play at the same time to give the Irish more quickness and more options for the fast break.

Jackson said he’s happy with that role, especially because he looks up to McAlarney as a team leader.

“Kyle’s a leader on the floor,” Jackson said. “He knows the offense, he knows the defense and he knows what the coaches expect.”

Before the season, Brey called Jackson an “energy guy,” a sparkplug that can push the ball and distribute on the break, but like all young players Jackson has to learn to harness that energy. In his first collegiate experience, an exhibition game against Rockhurst Nov. 1, Jackson committed two personal fouls in 12 minutes and took several off balance shots.

“He was excited,” Brey said after that game. “A little too excited.”

But while McAlarney and the other upperclassmen having been showing the newcomers the ropes, Jackson and fellow freshmen forward Luke Harangody, guard Joe Harden, guard Jonathan Peoples and guard Tim Andree have taught the veterans a thing or too as well.

“All of the freshmen pushed the starters,” Jackson said. “Big [forward] Luke Harangody made [sophomore] Luke Zeller a better defender. I think I pushed Kyle and I know that I want to be as good as him.”

Plus, Jackson says, the freshmen have brought a new attitude to an Irish program that has missed the NCAA Tournament each of the last three years.

“The freshmen came in here trying to change things, and the older guys bought into it,” Jackson said. “We have the mentality where we’re pissed. We’re pissed at everybody. We want to make a statement this year.”

Jackson knows how to win. He led his high school – Saginaw, Mich.’s Buena Vista – to a state championship his senior year while averaging 30.5 points, 10.0 assists and eight rebounds while running up and down the floor in the Knight’s high paced offense. He won three Michigan Player of the Year awards and is the state’s third all-time leading scorer.

Of course, in order to run the floor Jackson will have to see the floor, which is why he got his eyes tested before the season started. For the first time in his life, Jackson will wear contacts.

“I noticed a big change,” he said. “Everything was all of a sudden so clear. I felt like a little kid. I was really excited.”

Jackson realizes he and his fellow freshmen represent a new era in Irish basketball. Starting with this year’s very young team, which features only two scholarship seniors – guards Colin Falls and Russell Carter – and one junior – forward Rob Kurz – the new freshmen and McAlarney’s sophomore class will be the core of the team for seasons to come.

“I’m excited for the next few years where we get to hang with each other and keep getting better. It’s going to be scary for other teams,” Jackson said.