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Men’s Basketball: With K-Mac back, Irish look to reload

Chris Hine | Friday, August 24, 2007

Despite graduating its two leading scorers – guards Colin Falls and Russell Carter -Notre Dame retains a strong nucleus of talent and experience headed into the 2007-08 season. Mike Brey, 2007 Big East coach of the year, will look to juniors Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers to fill the gaps in the lineup left by Falls and Carter.McAlarney returns to Notre Dame’s starting lineup after sitting out most of last season. The University suspended the sophomore after he was arrested last December for marijuana possession.Before his suspension, McAlarney averaged 10.3 points and 5.4 assists per game. He is poised for a breakout year in the Big East.”Here’s a young man who has absolutely accepted responsibility and learned from a mistake and is honored to be back, thrilled to be back with his teammates. He did a fabulous job leading as soon as he got back,” Brey said. “He’s very hungry to get back on the court and be part of this and he’s done a great job coming right in and his teammates love having him back. There’s a toughness and an edge about Kyle that helps our team toughness.”Ayers was mostly a spot-up shooter off the bench last season, but this season, Brey hopes he can gain the confidence to use his 6-foot-7 frame to create more shots inside 3-point line. So far, Brey likes what he sees from Ayers in his summer workouts.”We’re excited and enthused about him stepping in to a Carter or Falls kind of role and being able to be a shot maker for us and do other things too, and he did that last year,” Brey said. “His eyes are on the door swinging open with Carter leaving and jumping on that. He’s done everything this summer to solidify that in my mind.”Senior Rob Kurz and sophomore Luke Harangody will comprise the Irish frontcourt for the second year in a row. Harangody averaged 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and earned a starting spot thanks to his hard-nosed style of play around the basket.Kurz, the lone senior on the team this season, averaged 12.6 points and eight rebounds, but his role this season will extend beyond the court.”Rob did a fabulous job leading and running the pickup games, and you know Rob is that workhorse that’s going to be there every day leading the team,” Brey said. Sophomore Tory Jackson will round out the starting lineup. Jackson entered the lineup after McAlarney’s suspension and played solid defense from the start. As the season progressed, he grew into a major offensive threat due to his ability to get to the basket off the dribble. Off the bench, junior Zach Hillesland will lend versatility with his size, quickness and basketball smarts, junior Luke Zeller, the tallest player on the team, continues to develop, while sophomore Jonathan Peoples will back up Jackson and McAlarney.Fighting for spots with the battle-tested veterans will be four freshmen who bring a variety of options to the table. So far, their biggest impact has been to push the team harder.”I think what was impressive about them as a group, the eight veteran guys that they’re joining are pretty intense, hard-working, business-like guys, and they didn’t pull those eight back,” Brey said. “They added to them and I congratulated them for that, that they added to that.”Brey said he did not know whether any freshmen will be red-shirted or which players would see what amount of time come November, but he likes what they add to the team.Carleton Scott brings some depth in the post, and Brey said his long wingspan should help in rebounding and grabbing loose balls.Tim Abromaitis spent his senior year of high school and summer workouts putting on more than 20 pounds of muscle, Brey said.”He’s in good shape. He can shoot the ball, so that makes him interesting because we lost two real good shot makers,” Brey said. “Anytime you’re a shot maker I think there could be an opportunity given what we lost.”Ty Proffitt will contribute some versatility to the guard position, with his ability to play point or off the ball, while Tyrone Nash could see some minutes, thanks to his 6-foot-8 frame and knowledge of the game.”Nash is probably the most physically ready to go because he went to a year of prep school, and he’s already got Big East strength which really helps him,” Brey said. “I don’t know what position he is – he’s just a good basketball player. When you’re a versatile guy like that and you’re physically ready, you make yourself valuable early as a freshman.”