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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Kurz’s leadership crucial for success

Chris Khorey | Friday, February 22, 2008

Each of Notre Dame’s starting five brings something different to the table.

Forward Luke Harangody is the star, the Big East Player of the Year candidate who is capable of putting up 30-plus point performances with a dazzling array of hook shots, up-and-unders and out-of-nowhere tip ins.

Guard Kyle McAlarney is the sharpshooter – the short, scruffy guy from Staten Island with perfect form and a dead-eye jump shot.

Point guard Tory Jackson is the distributor who seemingly racks up assists just from being in the game and can hit runners in the lane even after he’s disappeared among much taller players.

Swingman Zach Hillesland is the high-flyer, throwing down alley-oops and darting around heavy-footed centers for reverse lay-ups.

And then there’s that other guy.

He’s the one you never hear TV announcers yelling about. The one whose highlight video consists entirely of mid-range jumpers. The other player in front-page photos waiting for a rebound in case Harangody misses that spinning hook shot.

He may not be flashy, but the Irish would not be where they are today without Rob Kurz.

Kurz, the only senior on the 2007-08 roster, is also the team’s only captain. He’s a coach on the floor, directing traffic and keeping everyone on the same page.

Kurz keeps the squad on an even keel. He’s the only player on the roster that was here for the late season collapse in 2005, when the Irish lost five of their last six, including a first-round NIT game against Holy Cross. And he remembers the painful winter of 2006, when Notre Dame lost five straight games by a combined 11 points.

Maybe that’s why the only senior on the Irish roster seems to be the one to hit the big shot when his team needs it.

On Jan. 5, after Notre Dame saw a 21-point lead slip away against Connecticut, it was Kurz who hit a three pointer with 3:11 left to give the Irish a 64-61 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Last Sunday against Rutgers, with Notre Dame clinging to a 67-66 lead and under a minute remaining, Kurz buried a baseline jumper to put his team up three and allow it to hold on for the win.

Sometimes, however, the captain realizes that his best contribution is to get out of the way. In both match-ups with the Huskies, the 6-foot-9 forward spent most of his time on the perimeter so that Connecticut forward Jeff Adrian couldn’t help double team Harangody.

Kurz’s consistency this season has bordered on absurd. While other players have career highs one night and then are off the next, Kurz gets a near double-double every game.

The senior has been in double figures in either points or rebounds (often both) all but three conference games so far – and in two of those “off nights,” against Marquette and Connecticut last week, he was battling the flu.

It hasn’t been easy to be a senior in Notre Dame athletics this school year. The small number of football seniors was brought up by many (including myself) as a main reason for the team’s struggles. Other teams, like hockey and women’s soccer, also have small senior classes.

When a team has very few seniors, outsiders often assume it’s a “rebuilding” year. Notre Dame was picked to finish ninth in the Big East this year.

Rob Kurz made sure that didn’t happen. He accepted his mantle of leadership, brought his younger teammates together and, so far, has led the Irish to their best season since he’s been in South Bend.

Not bad for “that other guy.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Khorey at [email protected]