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Learning curve

Matt Lozar | Thursday, October 9, 2003

Losing Matt Carroll and Dan Miller to graduation has left head coach Mike Brey searching for some answers.

Since arriving at Notre Dame, Brey’s teams have always had more of a score-first attitude. With 42 percent of the offense from last year not returning and this year’s core players, specifically Jordan Cornette and Torrian Jones, having more of a defensive mentality, Brey talked at Media Day Wednesday about how his team might have to change its focus for the 2003-04 season.

“I think we can be better defensively with Cornette and Jones on the floor. I think we can contest some baskets instead of just trying not to let people beat us off the dribble,” Brey said. “I think with certain lineups we can extend [our defense]. Maybe get some easy buckets off our defense, which is something we really haven’t done since I’ve been here.”

Brey identified Cornette and Jones, along with Tom Timmermans, Chris Quinn, Chris Thomas and Torin Francis as the nucleus of his team he would be ready to take into a conference showdown tomorrow. Each of those players averaged at least 12 minutes a game.

“I’m really excited about who we have back,” Brey said. “When we think about this team all summer and watching them in four practices, the six returning guys, that if we had to toss it up tonight in a Big East game, I would feel pretty good about it.”

One of those players, who has waited his turn in his first three years at Notre Dame, is Jones. Since his freshman year, Jones has been behind Danny Graves, Carroll and Miller and had not had the team and coaching staff look to him as a leader.

Being named a captain by Brey over the summer, Jones took that role very seriously, leading the Irish in their off-season workouts.

“Coach Brey is a class act, and I know he had a plan for me or he wouldn’t have brought me here,” Jones said. “I knew that if I paid my dues, later on, it would pay dividends.

“I would have the opportunity this year to be a captain – which is a great honor – and to be a leader and play great minutes for this team.”

With only six players currently in the rotation, Brey wants to use the upcoming trip to Barbados over fall break to experiment with some new ideas and possibly identify two more players to join the returning core.

Brey talked about sophomore Rick Cornett and freshman Colin Falls possibly being two players to fill out his eight-man rotation. As a freshman, Cornett saw extremely limited playing time and started to lose confidence. To keep his spirits up, Cornett went to his family.

“I think I have a lot more confidence this year than last year. By not playing last year, it kind of took my confidence away,” Cornett said. “My parents, my sister and my grandmother and my friends from home kept me level-headed and kept my spirits up.”

Falls comes to Notre Dame from Loyola Academy in Park Ridge, Ill. Throughout summer workouts, the Irish looked at Falls to fill that outside shooter role they lost with Carroll and Miller graduating.

Receiving a bunch of passes on open-looks from the outside, Falls passed up a number of chances and played the role of a shy new guy. Brey and the coaching staff have been telling Falls to be greedy.

“I think it’s just getting comfortable. They are being very generous, with kicking it out,” Falls said. “The coaches have been harping on me to shoot it.”

The three-game trip will give the Irish an opportunity to get some work in against actual teams. Being able to get out of the practice gym and into true game situations will hopefully help the Irish come Nov. 24.

“I think it gives us a chance as a coaching staff to experiment with some lineups and rosters,” Brey said. “There’s not a lot riding on it, so to speak. You can’t experiment against Northern Illinois.

“We’ve got to be ready to play. Hopefully that gives us a head start.”