With Harangody back, Notre Dame looks tourney-ready
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In the spring of 2001, following
It was, however, unusual for Notre Dame. As Brey enters his 10th season in South Bend -- making his the third-longest tenured coach in the Big East behind
This past summer, it looked like Brey's streak was about to end. Luke Harangody, the 6-foot-8 forward who during his first three seasons dominated the Big East like few players in league history, faced a decision whether to enter the draft. Usually in those situations, the college coach tries to discourage his star player from leaving, but in this case it was Brey who pushed Harangody to test the professional waters. "I thought the only way he could come back [as a senior] with a great frame of mind was to go through the draft," Brey told me during lunch last week. "He said, 'I'm really torn.' I said, 'Luke, if you feel you need the next challenge, go for it. So you're picked in the second round, you'll still make a team. You won't be letting anyone around here down.' "
Harangody followed Brey's advice, and after going through several workouts for NBA teams, he decided a few hours before the deadline that he was returning to school. Harangody told me he came back to Notre Dame take care of "unfinished business," but he also conceded he did not have much of a choice. Not only would no NBA team guarantee him he would be picked in the first round, he couldn't even get a promise that he would be chosen in the second. Harangody is not the mouthy type, but this reaction did not please him. When Cleveland Cavaliers general manager
When I spoke with Harangody after practice last week, he was still ticked off at the chilly reception he got from the pros. "That's what motivates me," he said. "People are always going to question my height, my athleticism. I know people doubt whether I can take my game to the next level, but a lot of people didn't think I could do it in college, either."
I'm no draft expert, but I will say this: The pro guys are wrong. Harangody hasn't just been a good college player the last three years. He has been an absolutely dominant force while playing for mediocre teams in what is by far the toughest conference in the country. This week, he was the leading vote-getter for the
Here's another tidbit about The Gody you should know. He is on pace to finish as the all-time leading scorer
And because Harangody "chose" to return for his senior year, Notre Dame has a fighting chance to return to the NCAA tournament. This may not be the most talented team in the Big East, but it is the most seasoned. The seven players who will play the bulk of the minutes this season are in their third or fourth year of college. The starting perimeter trio of
Unfortunately, Notre Dame suffered a huge loss when 6-8 junior forward
Toughness remains the biggest question mark about Notre Dame, especially in the wake of last year's disastrous 21-15 campaign. The Irish began the season 10-2 and were ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP poll, but a hellacious seven-game losing skid in January derailed their season. By the time they rebounded to win six of their last nine regular season games, it was too late to get back into the NCAA tournament. They salvaged some dignity by reaching the semifinals of the NIT, but that only served as a painful reminder of the potential the team had squandered.
Much like the dissing he got from the NBA, The Gody still has a bitter taste from the freefall. "We lost some games, and some guys started to lose their confidence and our identity changed," he said. Both Harangody and Brey thought that the team's lofty early ranking may have given them a false sense of confidence. Maybe it's better for the Irish to come in with such low expectations. They were picked in the Big East preseason poll to finish eighth in the league -- and that was
I certainly didn't expect much when I went to practice last week. Maybe that's why I was so pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Herewith, my breakdown of the Fighting Irish: