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Men’s Basketball: With K-Mac back, Irish set sights on return to Big Dance

Chris Khorey | Thursday, October 11, 2007

Luke Harangody hasn’t forgotten about Notre Dame’s loss to Winthrop in the opening round of last season’s NCAA tournament.

In fact, he thinks about it every night before he goes to sleep.

“I think it was the lowest point of our season,” he said. “I have pictures walking off the court [in my room]. I still remember the plane ride home. It was one of the worst feelings ever.”

The sophomore forward and his teammates were on campus for most of the summer, working out and playing pick-up games in an attempt to get ready for another run to the NCAA Tournament – and this time maybe a first-round victory.

For his part, Harangody shed 10 pounds and said he is in the best shape of his life.

“At the end of last season I sat down with the coaching staff and we talked about what I needed to do, how I needed to get in the weight room, and how I needed to condition to get my body in the best shape so I could make it through the season,” he said. “I got in the weight room, watched what I ate and I think I met my goal.”

Sophomore guard Tory Jackson said the summer workouts were “perfect,” bringing the squad together on and off the court.

“We all were together,” he said. “It was like a big family. Anything we did, we did together. Anytime someone went down, you could look to one side or the other and you would always have a player to pick you up. We are all brothers out there.”

Junior Kyle McAlarney returns after being suspended for marijuana possession and missing the second half of last season to join Jackson in the back court. The two both played point guard early last season, with McAlarney starting and Jackson coming off the bench.

But after McAlarney was suspended, Jackson took over the starting role, averaging 7.8 points and 4.3 assists per game.

Because of the graduation of guards Colin Falls and Russell Carter, Notre Dame’s two leading scorers from last season, McAlarney and Jackson will both start this year.

Jackson said the summer workouts helped him adjust to playing alongside McAlarney.

“It will give us a nice balance,” he said. “We can run a lot and beat teams that way, just outrunning them.”

Although the Irish return eight players who made significant contributions last season, they have just one senior on their roster – forward Rob Kurz, who was Notre Dame’s third-leading scorer last season at 12.3 points per game.

“He has done a great job as the lone senior setting the tone this summer,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I think sometimes before he has turned down shots, and I’m going to start with him tomorrow not turning down shots.”

Kurz, Harangody, McAlarney and Jackson will fill four of the five starting line-up spots, and all have starting experience. Into the small forward role steps junior Ryan Ayers, who scored 2.9 points per game in a little under 12 minutes of playing time per game.

“I can contribute with my all-around game,” Ayers said. “I can hit the open shot from three and get in to mix it up in the midrange game or finishing at the rim.”

Off the bench, the Irish have junior Zach Hillesland, who does a little bit of everything. He averaged 5.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and a steal coming in a reserve last season.

Among veterans, 6-foot-10 junior Luke Zeller and sophomore point guard Jonathan Peoples will see time off the bench as well.

The Irish have a four-man freshman class this season, with forwards Tim Abromaitis and Carleton Scott, and guards Tyrone Nash and Ty Proffitt. Brey said the young players are learning how much work goes into Division 1 basketball.

“Our freshmen joined eight veterans who are amazingly motivated and really know how to work at a level that has got to be in the top two to three percent in college basketball,” Brey said.

Notre Dame begins its season with home exhibition games against St. Ambrose Nov. 2 and St. Edward’s Nov. 7. The regular season begins Nov. 12 at the Joyce Center against Long Island.