Sophomores become heart of Irish team
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Assistant Sports Editor
The Class of 2002 came to Notre Dame touted as one of the top recruiting classes in the Big East, but unproven as Division I college players. One year later, sophomores Troy Murphy, David Graves and Harold Swanagan have put their talent into play and are three of the go-to players for the Irish basketball team.
Murphy and Graves were the top two scorers for the Irish as freshmen, with Swanagan playing a significant role off the bench. Murphy also led Notre Dame in rebounding, and was recognized as Big East player of the week several times during his rookie season.
"Boy, Troy's one of the best players in the country," first-year head coach Matt Doherty said. "He needs to do a lot of things for us — shoot the ball, rebound and maybe even pass the ball.
"Harold's presence is mainly inside as a low-post scorer and rebounder," added Doherty. "David's job is mainly outside in his ability to shoot the ball."
The trio of sophomores began their role as impact players for the Irish early on, especially as the Irish struggled to adjust to the graduation of All-American Pat Garrity.
"We played a lot of minutes last year, and I think that helped us out tremendously," Graves said. "It gave us a lot of exposure and a lot of experience how to play Division I basketball. I consider myself a leader on the team because of the amount of time I played last year."
Murphy, a 6-9 forward out of New Jersey, averaged more than 19 points per game last year to lead the Irish. He also pulled down nearly 10 rebounds per game while playing 33 minutes per contest.
Murphy was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team as well as several national preseason publications, but discounts such preseason recognition.
"You have to go out on the court and prove it," Murphy said. "You just have to let your actions on the court speak."
As classmates, Murphy, Graves and Swanagan highlight the closeness of the Irish players.
"Dave, Harold and I are real close," Murphy said. "We do everything together. Dave, Harold and I share a special bond."
Swanagan and Graves were familiar with one another prior to arriving at Notre Dame. Both natives of Kentucky, they played together on all-star teams in high school and were both named first team all-state. They also carried that camaraderie with them to Indiana.
"They're my best friends on the team," Swanagan said of Graves and Murphy. "Dave is my best friend, being from Kentucky."
Graves is a 6-5 small forward whose shooting touch sets him off from other players. As a freshman, he played in every game, averaging 12.3 points per game as he started all but two contests.
"My role as a basketball player is to score points," Graves said.
Swanagan also played in every game in the 1998-99 campaign, using his physical prowess to dominate on defense and snag rebounds for the Irish.
"My role is as a hustler, a rebounder and a banger," Swanagan said.
The sophomore class, along with the rest of the squad, are seeking to improve on a 14-16 record last season. Assisting in the achievement of that goal will be the transition from John MacLeod to Doherty as Irish head coach.
"I feel like I transferred," Murphy said. "Last year, it wasn't a negative attitude, but it was more towards gradual improvement and maybe compete for an NIT berth by our senior year.
"But now Coach `D' wants us to compete with the best teams in the nation," added Murphy. It's really an exciting time to be a basketball player at Notre Dame."
The three sophomores hope to surprise teams around the nation this year.
"I think we have a good young nucleus," Murphy said. "I think we can be competitive in the Big East. We'll definitely improve on our win-loss record."
"My goals are always high," Swanagan said. "I'm looking forward to making it to the NCAA tournament."
In order to do that, they will need contributions from the entire team. Top upperclassmen returning are guards Jimmy Dillon, Martin Inglesby and Antoni Wyche.
Newcomers to Notre Dame basketball include freshmen Matt Carroll in the backcourt and Jere Macura at small forward, both of whom scored in double digits in the first exhibition game.
"We can't wait for them [the freshmen] to mature," Graves said.
"With the help of them, we'll surprise a lot of people around the country. The big difference about this year and last year is we weren't as talented and as deep as we are now."
Doherty is confident at the team's prospects heading into the regular season.
"I just think we're capable of doing whatever we set our minds to," Doherty said. "I want to be able to expect to win every game."
Tonight, the Irish get their final chance to tune up before the wins and losses start to count. They face Marathon Oil at 7:30 p.m. in the JACC.
"I think they'll be a good opponent for us," Doherty said, "But I'm more concerned with ourselves and getting ready for the Ohio State game."
The first exhibition game for the Irish ended up a 94-79 win over the International Select All-Stars.
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 12, 1999