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Men’s Basketball: Stepping up

Bill Brink | Tuesday, January 26, 2010

As Tim Abromaitis lined up a free throw near the end of Notre Dame’s 87-77 win over DePaul Saturday, a desperate Blue Demon fan screamed, “Who are you?”

Thanks to his performance, not just against DePaul but this whole season, now we know.

Abromaitis scored 30 points and hit five 3-pointers in the game Saturday, one point off his season high of 31 against Central Florida, the first game he started. He’s started every game since.

For someone who didn’t play a single minute last season, that’s quite a transformation. But not if you ask those who saw him last season — Irish coach Mike Brey said there were some days in practice where he would own the likes of Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers.

The operative words there are “some days.” Now he’s doing it consistently — he averages 16.7 points per game and makes 49.6 percent of his 3-pointers.

“He’s a 6-7 wingman who can do a little bit of everything,” senior guard Ben Hansbrough said of Abromaitis. “He’s got a great body, great hops, he’s a very good player for us.”

Abromaitis’ transformation this season, however, is more complicated than just his own improvement. Brey said he started playing alongside the “perfect storm” of players: senior forward Luke Harangody to attract help-side defense and leave Abromaitis open, and guards Hansbrough and senior Tory Jackson, who Brey said may be the best passers in the country.

Jackson and Hansbrough are ranked second and third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio behind Duke’s John Scheyer.

But it’s not all on them.

“To [Abromaitis’] credit, he has delivered,” Brey continued. “He has made the shots.”
Abromaitis isn’t just a shooter — several times he took advantage of a gap and took a pass under the basket against DePaul and threw down a dunk or two in the process.

“One of my strengths is really my versatility,” Abromaitis said. “I’m able to score on the inside and outside and it makes it harder for some teams to match up with me.”

He also understands how important Jackson and Hansbrough are to his success. He credited their drive-and-kick passes to helping him get open looks.

“I don’t know how they see me half the time when they give me the ball,” he said.
Hansbrough does.

“When somebody’s shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line, you have in the back of your mind, ‘Where’s he at?'” Hansbrough said. “He does a great job of finding open areas.”
Abromaitis has also taken advantage of the transition offense. He can take a pass on the fast break in the lane or sit on the perimeter while the defense rushes past, then wait for a pass and an open shot.

“At the beginning a couple transition buckets got me a couple easy looks,” he said. “The penetration of Ben and Tory, they did a great job getting in the lane and knowing where people are up and down on them and kicking it out to the open shooter. That just happened to be me a lot of the time today.”

That phenomenon burnt the Demon Deacons, DePaul interim head coach Tracy Webster said.

“If he was ball-side and his guy had to help, he was going to get an open look,” Webster said.

As potent a scorer as he is, he’s done it under the radar until recently, even in his own eyes: He was surprised that he scored 30 points Saturday.

“I don’t really count or anything like that,” he said. “I’m kind of a quiet scorer but that might be better for me.”