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Brey mixes and matches with deep bench

Pat Leonard | Thursday, March 3, 2005

At the beginning of the season, Mike Brey boasted he had nine or 10 players ready to see the court and make significant contributions.

Twenty-six games into the 2004-05 campaign, the Irish coach is using the depth he talked so highly of early in the season.

Juggling six players through three combinations of starting lineups, Brey also has found strengths in reserve players Russell Carter, Rick Cornett and Omari Isreal.

“Everyone knows during the course of the game that anyone could be playing from Chris Thomas to our last walk-on,” Carter said. “Not just me, but everybody – [coach Brey] tells everyone to be ready.”

Cornett, a 6-foot-8, 256-pound junior, has played the most prominent role off the bench this season, often substituting for center Torin Francis down low. At first permanently relegated to the bench behind a healthy Francis and Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore, Cornett played his way into a 9.5 minutes per game average – he scored four points in six minutes and anchored a 2-3 zone in the hostile Assembly Hall early in the season.

On the other hand, sophomores Carter and Isreal have shown in later emergences they may be able to contribute just as much in a back-up role as Cornett.

“I just play,” Carter said. “I know I can play. And I just go out there and show what I can do.”

What Carter can do is score.

The sophomore is shooting almost 49 percent from the field and 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) from the 3-point line. He averages 7.3 minutes per game and has played in 21 of the team’s 26 contests. Carter played 10 hard minutes in a 75-65 loss to UCLA Sunday, spelling a struggling Colin Falls and scoring six points on 2-of-3 shooting (both baskets were 3-pointers).

Carter (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) said he has gained 25 pounds of muscle since he arrived at the Joyce Center his freshman year. Physical work in the weight room has increased Carter’s strength and value on the floor, though – as any player would – he may have enjoyed the playing time sooner.

“Everybody is coming from their high schools where they were the man, and sometimes it’s a slow process,” Jordan Cornette said.

Carter “was the man” at Paulsboro High School, finishing as the second all-time leading scorer in school history with 2,287 points after averaging 30 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a senior.

This season, while demonstrating his scoring ability, the sophomore has also committed 20 turnovers and 25 personal fouls, both factors that limit him to a bench role but that, once corrected, will place Carter in a position to hog minutes.

Isreal, like Carter, saw significant minutes against UCLA and made the most of them. The sophomore forward scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“I’ve just always been positive,” said Isreal, who is averaging 7.7 minutes and 1.3 points per game in 16 games played. “I think I’ve gotten stronger mentally. Physically, I think I’ve been the same all here. Mentally, I think I’ve gotten better.”

Similar to Cor-nett’s role of be-coming an extra, skilled body, Isreal often jumps into the lineup for the athletic Cornette or for the third Notre Dame guard. His presence makes the Irish defense longer and the overall team taller.

“As the season goes on, guys that play a lot of minutes get a little bit tired,” Isreal said. “Big East gets more physical, so the extra bodies help us a lot.”

Isreal shoots just 30 percent from the field and averages 1.8 rebounds per game, but his performance against UCLA showed the sophomore is close to becoming a major factor.

“Omari waited his turn,” Cornette said. “Now he’s getting the opportunity to show his stuff.”

Carter, Cornett and Isreal have all taken a mature approach to their roles, preparing for each game as if they will see the floor even more than they did the game before.

“On any given night, I can get 10 minutes or no minutes,” Carter said. “It’s mental toughness.”