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Men’s Basketball: Ayers steps into starting position

Chris Hine | Thursday, October 11, 2007

With its two leading scorers – Colin Falls and Russell Carter – gone, Notre Dame needs to find a way to replace the points the two first-team all-Big East stars contributed on a nightly basis.

Junior forward Ryan Ayers said at Irish media day Wednesday he is ready to take on part of that responsibility.

“I’ve been waiting for this for two years,” Ayers said. “I feel like I’m very comfortable in this position and I feel like my coaches and my teammates have confidence in me. So, this is it for me, it’s a good opportunity.”

Ayers will hardly have to go it alone. Irish coach Mike Brey said the 6-foot-8 Ayers will likely start alongside sophomore Tory Jackson, junior Kyle McAlarney, senior Rob Kurz and sophomore Luke Harangody – all of whom have shown potential to put up bunches of points on any given night.

This season, however, Brey will ask Ayers to step into an expanded role as part of the starting lineup.

“Ryan’s always had a great feel for the game. The footwork he has now he had when he was probably a junior in high school. That’s what I loved about him. The body just needed time and the psyche needed time,” Brey said. “You know, he got his butt handed to him a little bit in practice and in games. He had some disappointment but he grew and got tougher because of it.”

Last year, Ayers was primarily a spot-up shooter and found success in that role. Ayers hit a game-tying 3-pointer in Notre Dame’s 66-63 victory over Villanova on Jan. 27 and nailed four 3’s to lead Notre Dame to a 76-64 win over Cincinnati Feb. 18. Now, Ayers is ready to add another dimension to his offensive game.

“I guess the last couple of years, I’ve gotten away from my mid-range game a little bit. That was one of my strengths in high school so I definitely want to bring that back,” Ayers said. “Especially the one-dribble pull-up shot that I’m pretty good at, so I definitely want to display that with more minutes hopefully this year that I’ll get. Once they take away the three from me, I should get in there and be able to finish either at the rim or at the 15-foot range.”

But Brey said fans should expect Ayers to develop his own identity on the floor and not try to imitate Carter.

“I think he can get in there a little bit up off the shot fake,” Brey said. “He’s not going to give you the Carter stuff, so I don’t want to kind of even bring that up, but I think he can probe. He can make plays off the dribble. He can get to that lane and rise up and shoot a short jump-shot where Carter could go all the way and take people with him.”

Ayers worked extensively this summer on his dribble-penetration and, in the process, gained the confidence of his teammates and his coach that he can be a leader out on the floor.

“You know, we’ve had so many guys on him the entire off-season saying, ‘You know, just shoot it, already,'” junior Zach Hillesland said. “We want him to shoot because, you know, I consider him one of the top two or three shooters on the team. So, we’re just trying to build his confidence and I think it’s at a really high level right now.”

Brey said Ayers’ size is also an asset defensively. During his first two years, Ayers had the responsibility of guarding Falls, Carter and Chris Quinn in practice and learned valuable lessons along the way.

“Those guys make you so much better defensively,” Ayers said. “Some might think Colin Falls wasn’t the best athlete, but he was a really smart defender, and so I learned from him and how to cut off angles. Certainly, with my length and what they showed me, I’ve become a better defender.”

With an experienced group of starters around him, Ayers won’t have to carry the bulk of the load every night, but if the team needs up to put up big numbers, Brey said Ayers can do it.

“He’s ready,” Brey said. “With what he did last year, I’m confident, he’s confident and, most importantly, his teammates are confident. We need him and he’s ready to deliver. He’s a junior now, he’s paid his dues.”