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    Connaughton Stays True To His Two Sports

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    Photo by Matt Cashore

    Another Irish baseball player from the Boston area is in the news today. Lenny Megliola of The Boston Globe profiles two-sport freshman star Pat Connaughton. Here's an excerpt.

    When Pat Connaughton was a junior at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Boston College baseball coach Mik Aoki offered the tall, fireballing righthander a scholarship.

    But Aoki knew that there was more than baseball on Connaughton's mind.

    "He was pretty much committed to playing basketball at BC,'' said Aoki. "I was trying to make the point that his future was in baseball.''

    Connaughton however, wound up in Irish blue & gold, and not just a basketball uniform as it may have originally seemed. He pitched 2.2 innings in relief on Sunday, and picked up his first collegiate victory in Notre Dame's 7-5 win over Pittsburgh. Check out Megliola's full article on The Boston Globe website.

    Prepped for Notre Dame

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    Zach Auguste (left), seen in action for the New Hampton School, is heading to the University of Notre Dame in the fall. (New Hampton School)

    Incoming Notre Dame men's basketball freshman Zach Auguste was recently profiled by Phil Perry in a Boston Globe feature on Boston.com. Check out the story below:

    Zach Auguste watched the University of Notre Dame's NCAA tournament game against Xavier in his Marlborough living room with his mother, Lea Tzimoulis.

    As time expired, he became so animated it was like he was courtside in Greensboro, N.C, cheering on the Irish from their bench.

    It won't be long before the 6-foot-10, 228-pound Auguste dons a blue and gold uniform for Notre Dame, on full scholarship. He must first complete his senior year at the private New Hampton School in New Hampshire. But his focus is clearly on South Bend, Ind.

    That is what made it so disappointing when a free-throw violation down the stretch stalled Notre Dame in its 67-63 second-round loss on March 16.

    "It was tough,'' Auguste said. "It was crazy. I was upset. I jumped up and started screaming at the TV, but that wasn't going to change anything.''

    He continues to put in the work, preparing for his freshman year. At home on spring break, he headed over to Ghiloni Park almost every day to hone his skills. Often, he met up with Fabrice Yoyo, a former teammate at Marlborough High. Other times, he joined a couple of other former Panthers, Canaan Severin and Carlos De La Cruz, for spirited pickup games.

    De La Cruz just completed his freshman season on the basketball team at Suffolk University, while Severin, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior at Worcester Academy, has committed to the University of Virginia to play football. Understandably, the games became very competitive.

    "It gets mean out there,'' Auguste said with a chuckle. "Everyone plays hard and aggressive, so it's good. It's a great way for us all to stay in shape.''

    Auguste, Severin, and De La Cruz were all classmates at Marlborough and expected to do "big things'' as seniors.

    But when Severin left after his sophomore year, the Panthers had lost their first star. Auguste departed after his junior year, leaving to attend New Hampton in order to prepare himself for college, on the court and in the classroom.

    "There's no way Notre Dame would have been an option if not for New Hampton,'' said his mother, who praised the school's small class sizes and disciplined approach. "We're blessed.''

    New Hampton coach Peter Hutchins has watched Auguste mature, on and off the court, over the last two seasons. On the court, the improvements really started late in his first season, when he headed to the gym at 6 a.m., before classes, for workouts with his roommate, Boston College recruit Olivier Hanlan, and the team's coach.

    "He was in the gym a lot before that,'' Hutchins said. "But was he working on the right things? That's something kids need to take a hard look at.

    "He bought into that. It's not even close to the transformation he made from one year to the next. It's hard to put into words how much he's improved.''

    Auguste's game took off last summer while playing for the Mass. Rivals AAU team. Last fall, he committed to Notre Dame and coach Mike Brey on his first visit.

    Since then, he has not stopped working. Time in the weight room, fueled by organic meals in the New Hampton cafeteria, helped Auguste put on 28 pounds over the last two years. Already athletic enough to run the floor and skilled enough to step out and shoot jump shots from the perimeter, he has added strong post moves to his repertoire.

    He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, earning second-team all-Evergreen League honors, as well as New Hampton's Gnerre Basketball Award as the team's most valuable player.

    Auguste doesn't know how exactly he'll fit next season in South Bend, whether he will play in the post or on the outside. But he has taken the Irish coaching staff's message to heart: Just be ready.

    He plans to be. And a year from now, he plans on finding himself in the middle of March Madness.

    "It's not gonna be the same next year,'' he said, thinking about Notre Dame's final tournament game. "I can't wait.''

    - Phil Perry

    Cameron Biedscheid (St. Louis, Mo./Cardinal Ritter College Prep) and Austin Burgett (Avon, Ind./Avon) will join Auguste this fall in the incoming Notre Dame class of 2016.

    Three-Point Play

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    You may not find a more successful Indiana basketball family than the Zellers of nearby Plymouth. The eldest Zeller son, Luke, is a 2009 Notre Dame graduate. Luke and his brothers, Tyler and Cody, are the subject of a great feature in the March/April Evansville Living issue.

    Here's a link to the profile from the Indianapolis Star's Michael Pointer: PDF version

    And below, the full text version of the article:

    Luke Zeller wasn't much different than any typical oldest brother. He liked to rag on younger siblings Tyler and Cody every chance he got. If he could show them up on the basketball court outside the family home in Washington, Ind., so much the better.

    But he also had to live by the No. 1 canon from his father Steve, who learned it from his father while growing up in smalltown Iowa in the 1970s.

    "Grandpa's rule was that you could pick on each other or mess with each other all you want," says Luke, the 2005 Indiana Mr. Basketball winner as a player at Washington High School. "It shows you guys are close to each other and comfortable with each other. But if I ever hear you didn't stick up for your brothers, you've got to answer to me when you get home."

    The three Zeller boys got their share of blessings: all of them standing at least 6 feet 10 inches tall surely helped on the court. But something in addition to talent turned Steve and Lorri Zeller's home into one of the most significant in Indiana's rich basketball history. Maybe it simply was the fact that they had each other's backs, or that the oldest would provide the proper example for the next in line.

    "They were always competitive growing up," Lorri says. "We might have pizza for supper, and they would turn it into a contest as to who could eat the most slices. And I definitely think they looked to Luke and what he did and fed off that."

    Luke, Tyler, and Cody all won Mr. Basketball honors. They all led the hometown Hatchets to Class 3A state titles and were ranked in the top five of their respective classes as seniors. They all went on to excel at the highest levels of college basketball -- Luke, now 25, at the University of Notre Dame; Tyler, 22, at the University of North Carolina, where he is wrapping up his senior season; and Cody, 19, one of the nation's top freshmen this season playing at Indiana University.

    "They've got great character about them," Washington coach Gene Miiller says. "They're humble. They just have great values and they're not ashamed to live those values."

    None of the three Zeller sons are Hoosier natives. Steve and Lorri were high school sweethearts while growing up in Springville, Iowa (population: 1,074). He stood 6 foot 4 inches tall and played three sports on the prep level before graduating from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. She was a 6-foot basketball and softball player at NCAA Division III Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Al Eberhard, her older brother, was an all-Big Eight forward at Missouri in the 1970s who later played in the NBA.

    The couple moved frequently when Steve began his career in the food processing industry: Luke was born in Iowa, Tyler in California, and Cody in Minnesota before they moved to Southwest Indiana in 1993 so Steve could take over as the manager of the Perdue Farms plant in Washington -- a job he holds to this day.

    Lorri began teaching classes at the local YMCA and volunteered for everything she could at the boys' schools. They found a welcoming church in Good Shepherd Lutheran. For a young couple accustomed to smalltown life, it was pretty close to nirvana. Little did they realize at the time it would turn out to be the perfect climate for three star basketball players.

    "We never considered leaving," says Lorri, who works as secretary at the Washington High School athletic office. "It's home for us. It was the perfect fit."

    The tradeoff to living in a small town is the lack of privacy. There is little room to hide, especially when growing up in a family approaching the status of basketball royalty. Steve and Lorri were determined to use that to their advantage.

    "I remember Luke, in his freshman year of high school, saying, 'Everyone in this town knows what I do,' she says. "'I go to McDonald's or the grocery store and everyone recognizes me.' I told him that if you think you live in a microscope now, just think about what you're doing wrong and think of all the attention you're going to get."

    Message received. There are no rumors in Washington of the Zeller boys being late for class, much less causing trouble on a Friday night.

    "You would look up in the stands and there would be 5,000 or 6,000 people there and I could probably tell you the stories of 80 percent of them," Luke says. "Basketball is a really special thing there, and the fans made it even more special. In a small town like Washington, they back you when you have a tough game. That's not always the case in some places."

    Luke's place in Indiana basketball history was secure when he made a half-court shot to give Washington a 74-72 overtime victory over Plymouth High School in the '05 Class 3A title game. He was never a star or even a full-time starter at Notre Dame. His career highest scoring average was 4.9 points per game his senior season.

    He graduated with a degree in management entrepreneurship and now plays for the Austin Toros of the NBA's Developmental League. He also is the founder and president of DistinXion, a nonprofit organization that uses sports to teach character and leadership development. (DistinXion will host a camp at the Downtown YMCA August 10-12.)

    "He was the leader," says Lorri, noting he was the valedictorian of his senior class at Washington. "Luke is a real social person. If he walks into a room full of people, he will have shaken hands with everyone there and learned something about every one of them."

    Tyler won the '08 Mr. Basketball award while leading the Hatchets to another state title. He was slowed by wrist and foot injuries during his first two years at North Carolina, but capped a superb junior season by averaging 25.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in four NCAA Tournament games and also earning first academic all-American honors last year.

    Lorri calls Tyler the most focused of the three. Miiller, who took over at Washington in June 2005, before Tyler's sophomore season there, says his success was probably the least expected.

    "He had a nice game against Barr-Reeve in our first game of his sophomore season, and some lady comes up to Lorri and says, 'I didn't know you had a middle son,'" Miiller says with a laugh.

    "He didn't have all that publicity. Everyone talked about Luke in junior high. Everyone talked about Cody. No one talked about Tyler. That little chip on his shoulder made him work harder to be a better basketball player."

    Finally, there's Cody, who quickly has become the most popular man on the Indiana campus after leading the Hoosiers' resurgence this season. That came after leading Washington to 3A state titles in 2010 and '11 and earning Mr. Basketball honors last year.

    "Cody just went with the flow," Lorri says. "We dragged him around to all of their AAU games and all of their college recruiting. He just sat back and observed. He's seen so many different things, and he just kind of internalized that."

    It can be exhausting to be the parents of the three Zeller boys. The drives to see their sons play are much longer now. Even when they visit Tyler in North Carolina, Steve and Lorri usually drive because they say it's easier than making a two-hour drive to the airport in Indianapolis or Louisville, Ky.

    "Sometimes, we're just amazed by the blessings that we've received," Lorri says. "We're just trying to soak it all in right now. We're just trying to see as many games as we can and enjoy the moment. We know it won't last forever."

    There's really no other way to describe it. The calendar had flipped. It was officially St. Patrick's Day and it felt like the stars were aligning for Notre Dame to play on Sunday for a shot at next weekend's Sweet 16.

    Instead, the Fighting Irish return to South Bend following a 67-63 second round loss to Xavier.

    With just two seconds remaining, Eric Atkins looked to tie the game at the free throw line, but Jerian Grant was called for a lane violation on the front end of a one-and-one.

    Possession to Xavier. Foul on Pat Connaughton. Two Musketeer free throws. Game over. Devastation for the Irish.

    Notre Dame led by 10 with 12:22 to play. The Irish shot just 4-for-9 from the free throw line. Not to mention, even if the lane violation had not been called, Atkins would have had to hit his second free throw, just to tie the game and hopefully force overtime.

    But if you're a fan of the blue & gold, there's no doubt the game left you shaking your head, asking yourself, "Why?" and "What if...?"

    Watching Lehigh knock off Duke earlier in the night, you got the sense that if Notre Dame had won tonight, a Sweet 16 spot was there for the taking. Not that anyone should look past the Mountain Hawks, but a game against the Patriot League champion certainly seemed like a more favorable situation for Notre Dame than a battle with the Blue Devils, just 55 miles from their Durham campus.

    This was going to be the year the Irish got past the postseason struggles.

    Instead, it's a disheartening defeat that ends an otherwise memorable season on a sour note. Notre Dame won nine straight BIG EAST games. The Fighting Irish knocked off #1 Syracuse in an unforgettable night at Purcell Pavilion. They won important games at Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia. They came back from a 20-point deficit to defeat Villanova in overtime, also on the road. These, just a few special moments from the 2011-12 season.

    Picked to finish ninth in the BIG EAST, they did all of this without arguably their best player, Tim Abromaitis, who missed most of the year with a knee injury. The Irish overachieved for much of the season, and were one of the feel-good stories in college basketball.

    Tonight in the second half, they looked poised to play on Sunday for a chance at their first Sweet 16 since 2003. Instead, that dream must wait, at least until next March.

    The drama that makes March exciting is the same drama that makes it heartbreaking. It's not like college football. There are no bowl victories. While some mid-majors are happy just earning a tournament berth, at the end of March, 67 of 68 teams are left disappointed. 67 groups of seniors struggle to deal with the end of their college basketball career, 67 coaches ask themselves what went wrong and 67 fan bases hope, pray and dream, that their team will make it back next year for another trip to the Big Dance.

    Notre Dame is one of those 67 programs, and with the way the season ended, I'm sure you'll be hard-pressed to find a team or coach more motivated to earn that coveted invitation again in 2013.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    At The Half: Notre Dame 33, Xavier 31

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    There's a date with Lehigh (yes, Lehigh) on the line tonight. After the Mountain Hawks shocked the college basketball world by downing Duke in the Tar Heel State, Notre Dame and Xavier tipped off in the final game of the night at the Greensboro Coliseum.

    The Irish got off to a slow start, but avoided falling into a big hole, thanks to back-to-back threes from Eric Atkins and Scott Martin.

    After a Jack Cooley three-point play, Notre Dame took the lead briefly, but Xavier responded with an 8-0 run.

    The Irish battled back and with under four minutes to play, used a 7-0 spurt to grab a five-point lead.

    But as expected, the Musketeers responded and tied the score at 29.

    Notre Dame took a four-point lead, but a late dunk from Kenny Frease cut it to 33-31 - where it stands at the break.

    All seven players who've entered the game for the Irish have scored. Jack Cooley leads with 9 points, while Martin has added 8.

    Tom Knight has four points off the bench for the Fighting Irish, but what stands out in his six minutes of play are the perfect pass he made to a cutting Pat Connaughton and the charge he took on the other end. At tournament time, it's always great to see the little things that may not show up in a box score.

    It's a quiet crowd in the Coliseum, which I think is due in part to Blue Devils fans leaving in disbelief, but it can also probably be attributed to the late start. Even though it's a Friday night, 10:15 pm isn't exactly family friendly.

    In the second half, the Irish will look to contain Frease and continue to shut down Mark Lyons. We've seen nine lead changes and three ties already, so don't expect either team to run away with it tonight. After all, this is the NCAA tournament.

    More updates coming on Twitter at @theUNDblogger and after the game, right here on Irish UNDerground.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Almost Game Time...

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    So, Norfolk State provided that bracket buster we had all been waiting for, and we've got another great game on our hands here in North Carolina.

    In the first evening game at the Greensboro Coliseum, Duke and Lehigh are knotted in a close one, with the Blue Devils holding a one-point lead with just under 13 minutes remaining.

    Notre Dame will take the court against Xavier about 30 minutes after the conclusion of this game. The Fighting Irish arrived shortly after 8 pm and are watching some of this game from the stands. If head coach Mike Brey's team wins tonight, they will meet the winner of this contest on Sunday.

    There are a lot of empty seats, but it's a great atmosphere here. With their Durham campus less than 60 miles away, Duke obviously has a large contingent of fans on hand, but there is also a great group of Lehigh supporters. Not to mention, there are many donned in Carolina blue who are enthusiastically supporting the brown & white.

    As per tournament rules, there will not be a CoverItLive blog on UNDerground, but we'll still have periodic updates coming. If you're on Twitter, be sure to check out @ndmbb and @theUNDblogger for more from Greensboro.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Game Day in Greensboro

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    For eight teams in Greensboro, the NCAA tournament dream starts today. The action kicks off at 1:40 pm when Creighton takes on Alabama in the always interesting 8-vs.-9 game. Following the conclusion of that game, top-seeded North Carolina will play Vermont in a Midwest region second round contest.

    This evening, it's the South bracket. Duke plays Lehigh at 7:15 pm, before Notre Dame tips against Xavier at approximately 9:45 pm.

    The Fighting Irish departed the team hotel earlier this morning for a 20-minute shootaround at the Greensboro Coliseum. After arriving at the arena, the team waited in the lobby for a few minutes as Vermont finished up its time on the court. The Irish watched President Obama break down his women's bracket with ESPN's Doris Burke on Sportscenter.

    It's kind of funny how the NCAA shootaround works. Teams are given 20 minutes from the time the cart of basketballs is rolled out. The Irish had a couple of extra minutes to warm up and stretch before really focusing on getting some work in before tonight's game.

    The court for this weekend's games is branded like the rest of those for this year's tournament, but there's something about it that really makes me think of the ACC. As I mentioned yesterday, the Greensboro Coliseum frequently hosts the conference tournament, and growing up, I think I came to associate those teal seats with great games between Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, etc.

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    After the shootaround, the Irish returned to the hotel for a meal, where they will relax before the big game. The Irish have looked good on the court so far, but I guess we'll find out more about ten hours from now.

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    Notre Dame vs. Xavier. Live on CBS. 9:45 pm.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Almost Tournament Time for the Irish

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    We're halfway through day one of March Madness and still have not seen an upset. Judging from Twitter, I missed a wild one in Pittsburgh, as UNC-Asheville nearly became the first #16 seed to knock off a #1 - a victory that also would've put the Bulldogs alongside Cincinnati and Notre Dame in an exclusive 2012 club.

    Speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish arrived at Greensboro Coliseum at approximately 4:15 pm this afternoon for a media session and practice on the court where they will take on Xavier tomorrow night.

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    Opened in 1959, the 23,500-seat arena is in the heart of ACC country. While some universities are hosting this year's second and third rounds, such as Duquesne in Pittsburgh and Ohio State in Columbus, the ACC is doing the honors for the Greensboro brackets, which explains why the conference logo is emblazoned on nearly every sign (including the chairs in the Irish locker room). The arena also frequently hosts the annual ACC tournament.

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    After warm-ups and a few drills, head coach Mike Brey's team spent about ten minutes scrimmaging full speed. As Brey said in his interview with UND.com earlier today, he wanted his team to really get some good work in during its 40-minute open practice.

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    There's no better way to get ready for a game in a new arena than to simulate one. Adjusting to the rims, lighting and feel of the court is something that we might take for granted, but it's certainly important when preparing to play in an unfamiliar setting.

    Before Notre Dame took the floor, local favorite Duke practiced in front of several hundred Cameron Crazies. From the sounds of the fans cheering, most were there just to see freshman Austin Rivers, who is projected as an NBA draft lottery pick. The Celtics fan in me hopes he is someday playing for his father's team.

    During Duke's shootaround, Coach Brey met with members of the media in a small auditorium. A former assistant with the Blue Devils, Brey joked when asked about his time with Coach Krzyzewski. The Irish head coach laughed, saying, "Other than drawing up the Laettner play for him, he did all the other ones."

    A few Irish players, including Tim Abromaitis and Jack Cooley stuck around for a few minutes to sign autographs after practice.

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    Coach Brey also caught up with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, CBS's broadcast team that will be calling all four games tomorrow.

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    Afterwards, the Irish returned to the hotel for a team meal and some rest before a shootaround back at the arena tomorrow morning.

    That's about it for Day 2 of the Irish in North Carolina. There is however, still a big night of hoops ahead, as we hopefully await a signature Thursday upset (The ball's in your court, South Dakota State).

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Irish Prep for Xavier in Greensboro

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    Sure, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" was written about Christmas, but if you ask a sports fan, there's no better time than the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Over the course of 48 games on four networks in four days, 64 teams will be whittled down to 16 Final Four hopefuls. Heroes will be born and hearts will be broken.

    Tipping off at approximately 9:45 pm ET tomorrow, the Notre Dame men's basketball team will be one of the last teams to begin its March Madness pursuit.

    This afternoon, the Irish hit the court at Greensboro Day School for a short practice in preparation for Friday's matchup with the Xavier Musketeers.

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    The Dillard Gymnasium is home to the GDS Bengals and their legendary coach Freddy Johnson, who earlier this season set a state record by notching his 819th victory.

    Built in 1991, the gym was a really nice place for the Irish to get some work in before heading to the Greensboro Coliseum later today for a media session and 40-minute open practice.

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    UND.com will have coverage from the Coliseum later this evening, so check back and stay tuned to YouTube.com/NotreDameAthletics, and right here on Irish UNDerground for more from Notre Dame's trip to the NCAA tournament.

    Also, if you're on Twitter, check out the new account @theUNDblogger, where I'll be featuring more behind the scenes content on the Fighting Irish, beginning right here with men's basketball in the Tar Heel State.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Gone to Carolina

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    Outside the team hotel

    If last night's 'First Four' games are any indication, we're in for a wild three weeks. March truly is one of the most exciting times of the year for a sports fan.

    The Notre Dame men's basketball team departed campus for the Piedmont Triad International Airport and Greensboro, N.C. this afternoon in preparation for its NCAA South Region second round matchup with #10 seed Xavier.

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    In the charter terminal at South Bend Airport

    Joining the team on the flight were the Band of the Fighting Irish and the Notre Dame cheerleading squad. While their friends might be spending spring break in Florida, Mexico or the Dominican Republic, a trip to North Carolina isn't too bad either.

    In a shocking mid-March twist, the South Bend weather was nearly identical to the 79-degree sunshine that greeted the Irish upon their arrival in Greensboro.

    The 7th-seeded Fighting Irish will meet with the media tomorrow at 4:30 pm, before taking the floor for an open practice from 5:10 pm to 5:50 pm at the Greensboro Coliseum. Head coach Mike Brey's team will also have a closed practice in the early afternoon.

    UND.com will have practice reports, updates and plenty of coverage of the Irish in the Tar Heel State. Stay tuned to Irish UNDerground for more, and tune in to CBS on Friday night as the Notre Dame takes on Xavier at approximately 9:45 pm ET.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

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