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    Planes and Trains

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    And that's how the headline
    "Notre Dame Team Wiped Out With With Hesburgh at the Helm"
    was avoided.

    Caption Contest

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    "Once upon a time ..."

    The Constant in Notre Dame Basketball

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    ND v Syracuse photo by Marcus Snowden (141).JPG

    Over the course of every summer and fall, I run into a handful of Notre Dame alumni, degenerate gamblers and degenerate Notre Dame alumni gamblers, and for the next 5 to 10 minutes we go through the dreaded Larry David small-talk wringer.

    "What are you doing nowadays?"

    I signed a confidentiality agreement at work so I'm not really at liberty to share that information, but I can say and do say, "Hi, my name is Waiter, I'll be your zach this evening."

    But the only question they really care about is, "How are the Irish going to be this year?"

    If I wasn't a first-born and therefore in possession of a crippling people pleaser component to my personality, I'd say, "Bro-ham, I don't know, how's the stock market going to be this year?" But instead I give them some half-baked analysis of personnel and chemistry.

    So, what I usually do is start with the guys I know best, then factor in an off-season improvement variable and go from there.

    The worst is when I try to describe the younger guys. Part of me just wants to call up the young'uns and say: "You don't know what it was like back in my day. You didn't have to do the Band of Brothers beat down with the Dog Faced Gremlin (our strength coach). You don't know what 50 Day was. When I was your age, we didn't even have Facebook. We had TheFacebook. You know how much time was wasted typing "the" all those times when I could have been on Twitter? I'll never know because we didn't have that either, you spoiled brat."

    Oh, sorry what was your question? How's the new kid, Pat Connaughton? I, uh, you know, I know for a fact that he has two legs so he's probably pretty good. After that, they realize that I don't have an abundance of useful information, and we part ways.

    But over the past couple of seasons, another question has surfaced toward the end of the season, and that's, "Why and how is Notre Dame as good as it is?"

    In previous years the first thing I would do is go down the list of players and what they have done well and how they have complemented one another, giving the players nearly all of the credit. And I could certainly do the same this year.

    But it would not be a complete analysis, or an honest one.

    Here is a team that lost its best and most experienced player, Tim Abromaitis, early in the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. At that point, I think everyone wrote off the Irish, including me. I thought they were going to go 0-20 in the Big East in 18 games. Yes, some of them were going to feel like double losses.

    But then they started winning. Again. And again. The nine-game Big East winning streak that started with Syracuse was nothing short of amazing. If Biff Tannen from "Back to the Future" could have taken a sports almanac back a couple of months, I don't even think he would have been able to pull the trigger on those bets. So what's the best explanation for all their success?

    Was it because of the tremendous development and magnetic hands of Jack Cooley? Certainly. Was it because they have the best defensive backcourt in Coach Mike Brey's tenure? Yes. Was it because of the emergence of Scott Martin as glue guy, defensive stalwart and leader? All of these things are reasons they have been successful, but we are still missing the X-factor.

    It has taken me seven years to see it, but the X-factor is Brey.

    To begin to understand Brey as a coach, you first need to understand his personality, and as far as characters go, he is an all-time American original.

    You know the line from "Tommy Boy": "he could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves"? Brey could sell white gloves to a woman already covered in ketchup Popsicles. He is a conversational chess wizard, always three, four, five steps ahead of the curve. His delivery is equal parts high school coach, Southern gentleman and a Leisure Suit Larry version of Phil Jackson. He has had enough one-liners to be able to retire and live off bumper sticker sales, and I can't wait for the day when he is a broadcast analyst, as he is one of the funniest dudes you'll meet.

    During film sessions, it is not uncommon for Brey, in the middle of a play, to start saying: "You know, fellas, I just knew that shot was going in. The ball movement, the unselfishness, the basketball gods were in our favor on that one."

    Ditching X's and O's for a karmic motion offense did not always make sense to me when I was in school, and that's probably why I could not hit a free throw to save my life.

    After I graduated, I tried to get a graduate assistant's position (something Notre Dame does not have) with the team, not because that was my dream, but because I was an 18-year-old trapped in a 22-year-old body, and I didn't know which way was up. I was in a dark place.

    When I went into the meeting with Coach, he said: "You have the kind of personality that can either heat the building ... or burn it down." What went through my head was, Yeah, well, if I don't find some kind of life direction or employment, I won't be able to pay for heat, let alone rent, and I'll most likely end up burning the apartment complex down -- whoa. How did you do that? How did you know?"

    It would have been an entirely wrong decision to prop me up at that point in my life. It would have been mutually destructive. And he knew that, and told me as smoothly and thoughtfully as possible.

    One of the first things Coach ever said to me turned out to be one of the most significant. It was during my first year, one of the very first practices, and I had forced up a terrible attempt at a 3-point shot. He pulled me aside later and said, "You don't need to reinvent yourself."

    It took me seven years to figure out that he was not talking about on-court skills. He was talking about personality. And therein lies the rub. Don't reinvent yourself. The guys who try to reinvent themselves falter. He is not saying, "Don't improve," he is saying, "Understand who you are, and translate that to the court."

    Immature players do not thrive in his system. Make yourself a man and you will have an open seat at the table. And that is not saying you cannot be a kid or that you cannot make mistakes, but when you step on the court and put that jersey on, you better take accountability for yourself and you better at least resemble a grownup.

    Looking at this year's team, I see nothing but guys who routinely step up and make the right play, from freshmen to fifth-year seniors, and they all do it with a confidence that they did not have at the start of the season. And for anyone who has watched this team's trajectory over the past couple of months, it has been a master class in personality management and confidence-building. Coach has an intuitive feel for what guys are thinking, what they are going through, and what they need to hear to make improvements and be successful, and he only gets better as he gets older.

    Coach Brey is not going to beat you over the head with any of this because he knows those lessons never stick. He pushes the buttons he needs to, and you cannot argue with the results. So, while it took some time for me to figure it out, this might be the best coaching job that he has done, and he certainly deserves a great deal of credit. He does not have the most talented team. He does not have the most athletic team. But what he does have is a team that earned a double-bye in the Big East tournament. That's what happens when you have the basketball gods in your pocket.

    - Zach Hillesland

    Relive the Bouts

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    If you weren't at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, did not get a chance to watch the live broadcast on UND.com, or just feel like watching again, check out this YouTube playlist for all eleven championship fights from the 82nd annual Bengal Bouts finals.

    Coaching Wisdom

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    With a newborn daughter and a new job, Mike Harrity, the university's associate athletics director for student-athlete development and community programming, amazingly also found time to finish writing a book.

    Coaching Wisdom: Champion Coaches and Their Players Share Successful Leadership Principles was published in late February and is available now.

    Harrity, who joined the Notre Dame family in Dec. 2011 after spending six years at Kansas, spoke with 13 coaches who have combined to lead their teams to an unbelievable 103 national championships, Stanley Cups or Super Bowl titles.

    Brad Stevens, who wrote the foreword for Harrity's book, is the only coach featured who has not won a title, but the 35-year-old is one of the most promising young coaches in college basketball, having led Butler to back-to-back Final Fours and championship game appearances.

    Although "Coaching Wisdom" is based on firsthand interviews with coaches and their players, Harrity explained that it is about more than athletics. "This isn't a book about sports. It's a book for anyone who is a leader - of a family, a school, an organization, or a team," he says.

    "I have a passion for exploring how leaders are able to create a culture that leads to achieving sustainable success. After spending time with the 13 coaches, from a broad range of sports, and their former players, I discovered common themes that emerged strongly. Each theme is represented by the chapters in the book."

    These chapters include Creating a Caring Environment, Communicating Effectively, Keep it Simple, Building Team-First Unity, Motivating and Inspiring Your Team, and Finding Your X-Factor.

    One of Harrity's remarkable discoveries in speaking with these coaches and their players was that in each case, the players' experience and what they valued had mirrored exactly what the coach had intended of his or her team.

    The book began as an idea in spring 2004, when Harrity went out on a limb and wrote to basketball legend John Wooden. Originally, Harrity planned to focus the project on the former UCLA coach, but within the last couple years, it evolved to include other collegiate and professional coaches from across several sports.

    Wooden responded to Harrity's letter, gave him his home phone number, and the two soon set up a meeting at Wooden's home in California. Harrity explains that he asked Coach Wooden for an hour and a half of his time, and ended up spending the entire day with the 93-year-old ten-time NCAA champion.

    Like many, Harrity had heard stories and read books about Wooden's leadership and the many lives he had impacted off the court. Still, he was struck by just how welcoming, friendly and helpful the coaching legend was to him, a total stranger.

    "He had more energy than me," Harrity says. "We developed a strong friendship. He really wanted to help me achieve my goals and dreams."

    Among those that Harrity interviewed were nine-time Stanley Cup champion Scotty Bowman, two-time Super Bowl winner Don Shula, 21-time NCAA champion women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, and Notre Dame football legend Lou Holtz, who wrote the book's preface.

    It has been an incredibly rewarding process for Harrity. Of all the coaches he contacted hoping to interview, not a single one declined his request for a meeting.

    "I have been continually amazed at how generous all of the coaches and their former players have been with sharing their time and wisdom. Many have become friends. But even if I only sell one copy to my wife and one copy to my parents, I'm a better man, husband and father having had the opportunity to learn from and spend time with some of the greatest leaders of our time."

    You can purchase Harrity's book on Amazon.com and soon, at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    The Mayor of South Bend

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    Plenty of Hockey To Go Around

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    With just six weeks left in the NHL regular season, teams are preparing to make a late surge in the hopes of securing playoff positioning. Here's a look at the former Notre Dame hockey players who are a part of the madness ...

    Veteran defenseman Mark Eaton ('98) has seen significant ice time for the Islanders this year. His lone goal of the season came during overtime in his 600th career NHL game on Feb. 3 against the Senators.

    Defenseman Brett Lebda ('04) came off injured reserve last week and has returned to the Blue Jackets roster. Despite being undrafted out of Notre Dame, Lebda scored his first goal during his NHL debut on opening day in 2005 and contributed to the Red Wings' Stanley Cup run in 2008.

    The Islanders placed right winger Tim Wallace ('07) on waivers this week. His 31 games this year are almost double his previous career high (16).

    Senators right winger Erik Condra ('08) had an assist Monday, contributing to Ottawa's 6-0 win over the Islanders. Condra has seven goals and 14 assists with a solid 12 +/- in his first full season in the NHL.

    St. Louis recalled defenseman Ian Cole ('10) Friday from AHL Peoria. The former first-round pick has one goal and three assists in his last 10 NHL games.

    Although the spotlight is on the NHL, there are a few former Irish players who hope to be the future of their franchises. Here's a glimpse through the AHL ...

    Having played one game for the Vancouver Canucks this season, right winger Victor Oreskovich ('06) has contributed 12 points in 28 games for the AHL Chicago Wolves.

    Right winger Kyle Palmieri ('10) has played with both the AHL Syracuse Crunch and the NHL Anaheim Ducks this season. Currently on the Crunch's roster, Palmieri has scored an impressive 30 goals and 16 assists in only 34 AHL games.

    Having made his NHL debut Oct. 31, winger Ryan Thang ('10) has netted 24 points in 50 games for the Milwaukee Admirals, the Nashville AHL affiliate.

    - Craig Chval ('15)

    Following Flynt - Notes From The Gug

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    Head coach Brian Kelly met briefly with some members of the media this afternoon for a story that will run later this week about his players who are moonlighting with the Notre Dame track team - George Atkinson III, Josh Atkinson and Bennett Jackson.

    Naturally, questions deviated from the topic at hand, as discussion shifted towards which Irish student-athletes will be returning for a fifth season. Rumors, tweets and blogs discussing the possibilities have persisted, but right now everything remains speculation.

    Though Notre Dame does not officially apply the redshirt title to any of its players, those who do not appear in game action during a season retain that year towards their four years of athletic eligibility.

    These athletes then have an opportunity to apply for a fifth season, but must obtain approval from the Faculty Board on Athletics before being granted permission to compete.

    I spoke briefly with football director of media relations Brian Hardin (@bhardin2), who explained that the fifth-year application process has begun and an announcement will hopefully be made before spring practice begins on March 21.

    Coach Kelly did confirm the reports that former walk-on safety Chris Salvi, who starred on special teams this past year, has been awarded a scholarship for the 2012 season.

    Salvi is also competing in the Bengal Bouts, and will fight in the 188-lb semifinals tomorrow evening. The bouts begin at 6 pm and will be held in the north dome of the Joyce Center.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Baseball Season Is Around the Corner

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    With 159 days between game seven of the World Series and opening day, it's a long, cruel winter without baseball. For fans of America's pastime, February and March are those months when you wait for the next day that brings us closer to the end. Today is one of those days.

    Today, the pitchers and catchers of the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers reported to spring training in Arizona, which means every team has officially begun preparing for the season.

    In celebration of the end of the winter and beginning of the spring, here's a look at the former Irish players who will look to impress during this preseason ...

    Milwaukee Brewers infielder Craig Counsell ('92) will move from the field to the front office, retiring after 16 years in the major leagues. The 2001 NLCS MVP has become a special assistant to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. Counsell ended his career with a spectacular fielding percentage of .985.

    Reliever Brad Lidge ('98) will make his Washington Nationals debut this year after spending his first 10 seasons with the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. The two-time All-Star spent much of 2011 injured but posted a 1.40 ERA in his 25 appearances.

    Relief pitcher Aaron Heilman ('01) signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners this offseason and will report to spring training. In his nine combined seasons with the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs, he has appeared in 477 games with a 4.40 ERA.

    Milwaukee relief pitcher John Axford ('05) will return to the Brewers after a breakout 2011 campaign. The closer converted 43 consecutive save opportunities while posting a 1.95 ERA. At the conclusion of the season he was named the National League's reliever of the year and placed ninth in the Cy Young voting.

    After spending some time in the minors last season, pitcher Jeff Manship ('06) will start spring training on the 40-man roster of the Minnesota Twins.

    Coming off a big 2011 season, relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija ('06) will hope to build off that success into 2012. The right-hander's .297 ERA last season was second best among Cubs pitchers and his 88 innings pitched were the most for any of Chicago's relievers.

    Also starting the season on a 40-man roster, pitcher David Phelps ('08) will look to make an impact for the New York Yankees. The 2010 Yankee minor league pitcher of the year has posted a 2.61 ERA in his four seasons in the minors.

    After making his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox last season, pitcher Kyle Weiland ('08) will start the 2012 season with the Astros, who acquired the right-hander in an offseason trade.

    Outfielder A.J. Pollock ('09) will play in spring training for the Diamondbacks. The former first-round pick hit .307 with eight home runs, 73 RBI and 36 stolen bases last year with AA Mobile.

    - Craig Chval ('15)

    Daily Dish - 2.14.12

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    Junior men's basketball forward Jack Cooley (Glenview, Ill.) has been named the BIG EAST Player of the Week after registering back-to-back double-doubles for Notre Dame in wins last week against West Virginia and DePaul. He averaged 21.5 points and 13.0 rebounds to earn his first career player-of-the-week honor. Cooley, who is averaging 11.5 points and 8.8 rebounds this season, had previously been named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on four occasions ... In Notre Dame's 55-51 win over the Mountaineers in Morgantown, Cooley played 33 minutes and scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds ... Against the Blue Demons, he matched his career best with 22 points and also grabbed 14 rebounds ... In addition, he equaled his career high with four blocked shots ... He leads the Irish with eight double-doubles that includes six in BIG EAST play.

    Jay Bilas' "Bilas Index" this week on ESPN.com has Notre Dame rated 45th nationally. The Irish men's team made the polls this week for the first time this season--23rd by AP and 25th by ESPN/USA Today. CBSSports.com's Top 25 (and one) poll had the Irish rated 18th this week. SI.com's Seth Davis lists the Irish 21st this week. Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Bracketology this week projects Notre Dame as a #7 NCAA seed playing #10 Purdue in Greensboro. Another projected bracket on CBSSports.com by Jerry Palm (before the DePaul game) had the Irish at a #8 NCAA seed playing #9 Illinois in Louisville.

    The Notre Dame Bengal Bouts--the University's 82nd club boxing event--continues with quarterfinals Feb. 22 (6 p.m.), semifinals Feb. 28 (6 p.m.) and finals March 3 (7 p.m.). All proceeds benefit the Holy Cross Missions of Bangladesh.

    The Notre Dame men's golf team advanced into the semifinals at The Match Play, earning wins over Loyola Chicago and Villanova Monday at the Reunion Resort Watson Course in Orlando, Fla. The Irish took down the Ramblers 5.5-0.5 in the opening roundbefore defeating the Wildcats 4.0-2.0 in quarterfinal action. Seniors Chris Walker (The Woodlands, Texas) and Tom Usher (Baildon, England) as well as sophomore Niall Platt (Santa Barbara, Calif.) and freshman Tyler Wingo (Fairfax, Va.) paced the Irish through their opening two matches, winning each of their respective contests to notch the maximum two points on the day...

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