Men hope for life after Murphy
By ANDREW SOUKUP
Associate Sports Editor
Barely two sentences into his first press conference of the 2001-02 basketball season, Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey answered the question everyone else was dying to ask.
"I think the theme since last spring has been `Is there life after Troy [Murphy]?'" Brey said. "We really feel there is."
Nobody denies that Murphy was the focal point of Notre Dame's success last season. Before he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA draft, Murphy led the Irish to the Big East West Division championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament — the first for the Irish in 11 years.
But with Murphy gone, Brey feels that Notre Dame's three senior captains, David Graves, Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan, as well as junior Matt Carroll, will provide the leadership the Irish need. Tonight at Midnight Madness in the Joyce Center, Irish fans will get their first glimpse at life after Murphy.
"Once Troy made his final decision, we had time to figure out what our team was going to be like," Brey said. "You have four guys who have played a lot of basketball and you have four guys who have won a championship. When you have older guys, you have a chance to be OK."
In Humphrey, Graves and Carroll, the Irish have three players who averaged more than 29 minutes a game last season. And Swanagan will be responsible for guarding the opponent's top big man, a role he slowly took on as last year progressed.
"People haven't seen how good we can be because we haven't been able to spread our wings," Graves said. "This year, it's kinda full throttle."
But the departure of Murphy isn't the only void Brey is worried about filling.
Point guard Martin Ingelsby, who led the Irish in total minutes last year, graduated in the spring. Brey is looking toward freshman Chris Thomas, who was a McDonald's All-American and Mr. Basketball in Indiana, to be the next Notre Dame point guard. However, Brey doesn't know how his young star will respond to the intense pressure he is certain to face.
"It's not like we have to overanalyze this and wonder who's the point guard. He's the guy," Brey said. "I think what helps Chris Thomas is those four guys up front. He's playing with four men. It's not like there's two freshmen up there. That's really going to help him."
"Expectations are high for myself, and I think I've added those expectations to my mind," Thomas said. "Having the upperclassmen here is a key factor for us because it's not like I'm passing the ball to someone who doesn't know what to do with it. I'm passing it to guys who have been here, who have been through key games and the tournament and know what to do with the ball. If I give it up, I'm not going to have to worry about going to get it back like in high school."
Beyond Notre Dame's starting five, Brey is concerned about depth along the front line. Along the bench, only Tom Timmermans and Jere Macura are taller than 6-foot-9, and neither saw significant playing time last year.
"I told our guys, it's not that Coach Brey plays only plays six guys," Brey said. "You tell me how many are going to play. Six were all that were ready to do it last year."
Brey also expects sophomore Torrian Jones to play a more important role this season. Last year, Jones was used primarily in defensive situations and as a backup point guard. But Brey expects that to change this year.
"Torrian Jones really looks good," Brey said. "We certainly got him back in there, he delivered, and I think he learned a lot. I think he's a guy we can call on quickly on the perimeter."
Brey also expects newcomers Jordan Cornette and Chris Markwood to contribute. Markwood, who sat out all of last season after undergoing knee surgery, will be able to relieve Thomas at the point. And Brey is excited to have Cornette, whom he describes as a quick defender who can guard anyone on the floor, big or small.
"We're going to be a different team and I think our style of play is going to be different," Carroll said.
But even if this year's Irish have a different look than last year's team, they still want to accomplish the same things they did last year. The Irish believe they are capable of repeating as Big East West Division champions and, if they play consistently in the Big East, will make it back to the NCAA tournament.
"Ryan's never missed a tournament, and he's made that very clear," said Brey. "To talk about that long haul of being consistent, we didn't understand it until it was in the bank last year."
In Big East play last year, the Irish won 11 of 15 games, including an eight-game winning streak in January and February.
This year's Irish are a different team, with different players and different expectations. But this year's Irish are more experienced and they have the same goals. How that experience helps them will remain to be seen.
"We've never been in this situation before," Graves said. "We've never won a championship, so we'll see how we react to it. I think we'll react very well."
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 12, 2001