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Men’s Basketball: Transfer takes charge

Eric Prister | Thursday, January 20, 2011

Receiving contributions from transfer students is not a rarity for the Notre Dame basketball program. In fact, two current Irish starters did not start their career in South Bend. But senior guard Ben Hansbrough does more than just contribute for the Irish — he has become the de facto leader of the 2010-11 Notre Dame squad, both on and off the court.

“Being a captain, obviously you have to be a leader,” Hansbrough said. “My overall role is just to continue to get this team going, and provide my spirit and work ethic for the team, and I just hope it rubs off on everybody.”

Hansbrough is leading the Irish in scoring, assists, steals and 3-point percentage, and is second in minutes played. This multi-faceted offensive approach is something that he said he strives for. His 15.7 points per game is good enough for eighth in the Big East, and he ranks fifth in the Big East in 3-pointers made. Irish coach Mike Brey has repeatedly talked about how well Hansbrough has let the game come to him this year, instead of searching for shots.

“I need to just go out there and play, attacking and getting other people open and scoring at the same time,” Hansbrough said.

Defensively, Hansbrough has been excellent for the Irish as well. He often guards the best player on the opposing squad, and held Connecticut junior guard Kemba Walker, the leading scorer in the Big East and then-leading scorer in the NCAA at more than 25 points per game, to just 19 points and 0-5 shooting from beyond the arc.

“I like setting the tone defensively, playing tough defense,” Hansbrough said. “On defense, I am just trying to get everybody going, and I like to take the best player and try to hide his strengths a little bit.”

But being a leader is not just about statistics, and Hansbrough has embraced his role as the emotional leader of the Irish squad as well, something he learned from the Notre Dame veterans when he arrived in 2008.

“Three years ago when I came here, [former Irish players] Zach Hillesland, Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zellar were on the team, and it helped just being around those guys and watching how they carried themselves,” Hansbrough said. “It really was like a learning process for me. And then once you become a senior, it’s almost like you’ve watched these guys and how hard they’ve worked and you try to embrace it and set an example for the younger guys and then how we do things here. Hopefully they can enjoy the Notre Dame experience at the same time.”

Hansbrough began his career at Mississippi State University, and played two seasons with the Bulldogs. He averaged 8.8 points over those two years, but when it came to deciding on a new school, he knew that Notre Dame would offer him exactly what he was looking for.

“Obviously you get the best of both worlds here — academically and with sports,” Hansbrough said. “Basketball’s in the best conference in America, and you’re constantly getting national exposure. At the same time, you’re graduating from an excellent academic institution.”

Hansbrough thrives on his confidence, and it’s that confidence that allows him to play at a high level. And once he starts hitting shots, it becomes very difficult to stop him. Hansbrough scored 19 points in the first half against Kentucky, including three straight 3-pointers and 11 points in a row.

“It’s kind of weird, because me and the guy that rebounds for me, Pat Holmes, Jr., he can kind of tell when I go onto that zone,” Hansbrough said. “It’s just hoping you can get to that zone, and constantly working every day, training on your game. Once you get out there on the court and you start to see a couple shots go in, it’s almost like you’re reminiscing from these workouts when you get hot and you can’t wait to touch it again and get another shot up there. Also, my teammates have been doing a great job of finding me when I get into the zone, so it’s partly to their credit also.”

Hansbrough claims his confidence was instilled in him from competing against his older brothers Greg and former North Carolina standout and current Indiana Pacers forward Tyler.

“I think a lot of the confidence comes with the family I was raised in,” Hansbrough said. “I have two very competitive older brothers, and me being the youngest, you almost have to learn how to play with an edge just to compete with those guys. Tyler being 2 1/2 years older than me and Greg being 4 1/2 years older than me, at such a young age you have to kind of learn how you’re going to compete, and I think you pick up an edge, and that edge may reflect confidence. I just think it’s instilled in me almost, being the littlest of the three.”

In addition to the confidence he learned, Hansbrough said that some of his determination came from watching Tyler’s achievements — 2008 National Player of the Year, 2009 National Champion, 2009 NBA Draft lottery pick.

“My brother’s had a lot of success,” he said. “I would say that I took a lot of his work ethic. Seeing the success he’s had and just watching and learning how he got there, you kind of learn how he was successful with his work ethic and his game on and off the court. You just can kind of learn from it, and it’s been really good for me to learn from that and see the success he’s had from his hard work. You just try to adapt it, and it’s worked for me also.”

Because they went to the same high school, Hansbrough was able to witness his brother’s work ethic up-close — sometimes too close.

“We played on the same high school team, and we never played against each other, so the only rivalries we had would be in open gym at school, and those were pretty bad. There were some lost teeth a couple times. It happens,” he said.

When asked which of the two lost their teeth, Hansbrough answered pointedly.

“Umm … me,” he said, laughing.

Hansbrough said he embraces any opportunity to get better, and he was allowed a unique opportunity this summer. He played in pickup games at Chapel Hill, N.C. against professional and college athletes, including New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton.

“It was great for me, because as an athlete, you always want to try to train against the best competition out there,” Hansbrough said. “I was able to train with Raymond Felton, and it was great to go out and play with somebody who’s at that level and compete against. That was really good for my game.

“It brought my confidence up to a new level, and it brought my game up to a new level too. Going around those guys and seeing how they treat the game and how they dedicate themselves to the game. It was just good for me. Watching how he was a point guard at a professional level, and watching how he got everybody involved, and his tempo, speed and work ethic really surprised me, and I’ve just been trying to translate some of that stuff into my game.”