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Men’s Basketball: Five seniors lead Irish in post-Harangody era

Matt Gamber | Friday, August 20, 2010

Heading into last season, a major storyline for the Irish was the farewell tour of forward Luke Harangody and point guard Tory Jackson, the leaders of the winningest class in program history.

It may not be as easy to attach an identity to this team just yet, but with the return of several starters and key reserves, and the anticipated debuts of a transfer and a few key freshmen, the 2010-11 Irish could surprise some people.

Despite known commodities like Harangody and Jackson leading the way for most of last season, surprise, in the form of a revamped “slow burn” offense, turned out to be a key weapon for Notre Dame down the stretch last year. When Irish coach Mike Brey made the decision late in the Big East season to slow down his typically up-tempo offensive style, it caught Notre Dame’s opponents off guard and propelled the Irish into the NCAA Tournament.

“It came at a good time for us. It was tricky for our opponents,” Brey told reporters earlier in the summer. “I’ve been here a long time and that was a unique dynamic — all of a sudden, playing differently down the stretch.”

Whether that becomes the new norm for the Irish remains to be seen, but Brey said he hopes to mix elements of the old and new, the fast and slow, to keep opponents guessing.

“Throughout a game, can we do that? Can we change a gear, coming out of a media timeout and play a certain way for four minutes?” Brey said. “All things I think we can do and I’d like to explore.

“There’s no question that we have guys that can get up and down the court. We want to be able to do that and I think we have to start off doing that. But being able to change tempo and change gears I think is something we have to do throughout a game and throughout a season.”

The Irish return their second- and third-leading scorers in senior forward Tim Abromaitis and senior guard Ben Hansbrough, who averaged 16 and 12 points per game, respectively. Abromaitis and Hansbrough were Notre Dame’s two best 3-point shooters last year, as each shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.

Senior forward Tyrone Nash started every game last year, and fellow senior forward Carleton Scott’s energy and athleticism gave the Irish a lift when he was inserted into the starting lineup late last season.

Brey also has high hopes for senior forward Scott Martin, who transferred from Purdue and was eligible to play last year before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in October. Martin sat out the 2008-09 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but despite not playing in two years, Brey said Martin could be a difference-maker.

“He needs to put a jersey on,” Brey said. “He wants it … And there is plenty of time to do it because he’s really hungry.”

The Irish will certainly be a different team without Jackson and Harangody, but Brey said he sees a core group with the potential for success.

“So this nucleus is good with the ball, including the big guys,” Brey said. “That’s the way we play, it’s the style we’ve established. But to have that one guy that can initiate the offense, that’s something that we’ll have to develop.”

That’s the role Jackson filled for four years, and Brey said Jackson’s experience will be a challenge to replace.

“He played the position longer than anybody in our program,” Brey said. “That is a position that’s a unique position. I played it, so I can relate to it. You just don’t groom one of those guys.”

For the Irish, that guy could turn out to be freshman guard Eric Atkins. The former Mount Saint Joseph star out of Columbia, Md., is the heir apparent to the graduated Jackson, and Brey said he’ll have a chance to start as a freshman, as Jackson did four years ago.

“I think one of the reasons he came to Notre Dame was because the opportunity [to start] would present itself. We talked about that, with Tory Jackson walking out the door,” Brey said. “I think he is a kid that we want to really look at, early in the season and number one, get him stronger.”