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Men’s Basketball: Staying Luke

Chris Hine | Friday, February 8, 2008

Every week, Notre Dame comes together to study film – and to laugh at the antics of Luke Harangody.

In between critiques of their play and studying the patterns of their opponents, the Irish can’t help but crack up at Harangody, who always manages to get the room laughing.

“One time, he was just running and it looked like someone yanked the carpet out from under him and he hit the deck,” junior forward Zach Hillesland said. “We usually have one or two plays every week that we just die laughing about.”

But the laughs don’t end there.

“He tried to dramatically draw a foul and threw his hands up,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “[He did] the, ‘Look ref he fouled me’ and threw his hands up in the air, and our guys were like, ‘Get out of here, come on, the guy was like 170-pounds that hit you.'”

Harangody’s teammates may be laughing at him, but the rest of the Big East certainly isn’t.

Harangody averaged 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his freshman campaign. This season, the sophomore trimmed down and overcame a torn ligament in his right thumb in October to lead the Big East in scoring with 20.4 points per game. He is second in rebounding in the Big East with 10.4 per game. His play this season earned him a spot in the top-30 for both the Wooden and Naismith Awards, two honors given to the best player of the year nationally. And he has opposing coaches, like Providence’s Tim Welsh, saying he’s the Big East player of the year.

How did Harangody elevate his play? By playing with high intensity (Harangody can be seen yelling and seeking out chest-bumping teammates every time he has the potential for a 3-point play), and by playing a little “crazy.”

“When I step on the court, it’s a different feeling,” Harangody said. “I feel like you have to be kind of crazy, you have to be a little off to play in this league. You have to lose it out there.”

With the added attention comes extra ribbing from his teammates, who said they love to poke fun at the “sensitive” Harangody.

“The guys on the team keep me focused,” Harangody said. “They joke around with me. Zach, Ryan [Ayers], and Kyle [McAlarney] make fun of it all. So that just keeps me grounded and I try to stay humble. I have really good guys around me.”

But for all the fun they have at Harangody’s expense, the Irish certainly don’t take for granted how Harangody has helped them to a 7-2 record in the Big East this season.

“He’s never too cocky. The thing with him is, he’s always about the team,” Hillesland said. “He puts up big numbers, but it’s all within the context and the framework of what we want to do. We want to go down low to him because it helps out everything else for us offensively. He’s never too cocky, but we do a good job of bringing him down to earth even if he doesn’t need the reality check. We need him to keep performing like that because he’s having a great year and if he keeps it up we have great things ahead of us.”

Last season, Harangody made an impact immediately, something he didn’t expect to happen.

“When I got here as a freshman, I didn’t see myself playing any minutes at all,” Harangody said. “I didn’t even know if I could play in this league. So that was the hardest hump to get over confidence-wise … I think right when we started practice, I started off with a couple of good practices and that gave me a lot of confidence and let me know I could play.”

With the help of his coaches and teammates, specifically senior forward Rob Kurz and former guard Colin Falls, Harangody learned to cope with the difficulty of the college game and developed into a consistent threat in the paint.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand how much you learn, how much more relaxed you get as you play more and more,” Harangody said. “And it’s the same thing this season. It was an easy transition because I learned how to do the little things.”

After entering Notre Dame a year and a half ago, not knowing when or how much he would play, Harangody and his coach are now talking about ways to improve his game so he can play in the NBA.

“I think he’s going to be a prospect one day,” Brey said. “It’s crazy that you have to talk about that, but that’s the reality of the business we’re in and there’s no question he has a very bright future after college. But he’s the first one to raise his hand and say, ‘There’s still a lot of things I need to learn and do better,’ but he has a bright future playing the game.”

First on Harangody’s to-do list for the NBA is improving his defense.

“I think he could always improve defensively,” Brey said. “Both in man and zone, his awareness not guarding his guy but helping his teammates, that is still a process for him and we come back to that everyday.”

Harangody said he’s well aware that his 6-foot-8 frame would be a disadvantage in the NBA, where he’d frequently face post players who are quick and in the neighborhood of seven feet tall, but he said he’s determined to not let his height prevent him from accomplishing his goal of playing in the NBA.

“People always talk about how I’m undersized and maybe they don’t think I’ll make it, but I don’t think that’s going to stop me at all,” Harangody said.

And he’s well aware that he didn’t play his best games against Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert and Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet, who are each over seven feet tall. Harangody scored 13 against Georgetown and scored 14 on 5-for-23 shooting against Connecticut.

“The media’s always asking, ‘Oh, those were your only two bad games in conference,’ and it had something to do with their size, but I just had two off games,” Harangody said. “But I’ve watched tape and saw where I could use my body to get around them and bring them away from the basket. I’m learning. This is the first year I’ve really played against players like that. That’s one of the things this year that I’ve had to deal with the most and learn the most from.”

Harangody described himself as “shy” off the court and Brey has tried to help him deal with the increased attention by meeting with him frequently to keep his primary focus on basketball.

“We just need to limit his distractions, because it is happening fast for him,” Brey said. “He’s really level-headed and I have full confidence he can handle it, but I just want to make sure we’re not overwhelming him and distracting him because we need him focused down the stretch.”

Harangody is not your typical college basketball star. He’s not one of the one-and-done freshmen who blanket ESPN, and he certainly isn’t going for style points night in and night out. But he’s a consistent, hustling, and dominating presence in the paint.

“He is so focused and every objective, mission or goal or assignment, he meets with what you see,” Brey said.

And if the success ever goes to his head, he has his teammates, like Hillesland, to keep him grounded.

“He’s just a big bear. He’s a big bear of a man on the court and he’s a sensitive bear off the court. He even has bear hair,” Hillesland said. “But he’s just a really good kid and we’re happy for all the success he’s having.”