1997-98 Basketball Season Outlook
MacLeod, Garrity and Rest of Irish Look to Continue on Last Season's Success
The afternoon of March 4, 1997, was a typical day on the island of Manhattan in New York City. Commuters rushed from subway to subway on their way home from work. Tourists bustled from one site to another.
But, for the Notre Dame basketball program, a defining moment was taking place in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, located directly next to Grand Central Station. The BIG EAST Tournament was again invading the city for another year of basketball madness and the league was holding its annual awards ceremony on the eve of the championship.
The Irish had joined the BIG EAST one year earlier, but the 1995-96 season was a tough initiation for Notre Dame as the team posted just four wins in league play. The Irish were a member of the league, but they just didn't feel like they belonged quite yet.
The 1996-97 campaign changed that. The Irish doubled their league wins total to eight and the Tuesday afternoon ceremony in the Big Apple was about to affirm that not only did Notre Dame belong to the league, but also it was well on its way to a promising future as a conference member.
BIG EAST commissioner Mike Tranghese, who calls Notre Dame's presence in the BIG EAST "a homerun for the league," presided over the awards ceremony as Irish head coach John MacLeod was named the conference coach of the year and Notre Dame forward Pat Garrity was named the player of the year.
"This is exactly the kind of recognition our program needed," says MacLeod, who enters his seventh year in charge of the Irish program in 1997-98. "These types of awards are what get into the minds of people and let them know that Notre Dame basketball is a powerful member of the BIG EAST Conference."
Notre Dame ended the 1996-97 season with a bang as it came within a point of the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, losing by a point to Michigan in the NIT quarterfinals. The Irish defeated Oral Roberts in the first round and TCU in the second round before falling to the Wolverines.
"The NIT was a great experience for our players," says MacLeod, who coached in the National Basketball Association for 18 seasons. "In addition to the valuable extra practice time it gave us, it taught our players what playing college basketball in March is all about and it gave our fans a chance to show great enthusiasm for the team."
An air of excitement was in the Joyce Center last year for Irish games as the building again became one of the great homecourt advantages in the country. Notre Dame tied for the best home record in the BIG EAST as it was victorious in seven of nine league games in the building and had an overall record of 14-4 at home.
If there is one thing that Joyce Center crowds can count on in the '97-'98 season is that they will get a chance to see one of the country's premier players night in and night out in Garrity. Garrity is the complete student-athlete; he has excelled both on the court and in the classroom.
Garrity was named a GTE first-team Academic All-America selection last year, the first BIG EAST player of the year to earn that honor. He is a pre-professional science major and currently carries a 3.7 grade point average and earned a 3.9 GPA the semester he won the BIG EAST player of the year award.
On the court, Garrity averaged a team-high 21.1 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per contest and was the second-leading scorer in the BIG EAST last season.
"Garrity is a wonderful player," says Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, who coached against Garrity while at Kentucky. "He can play at the next level. He moves well without the ball and he gets everyone's attention. It's hard to score when you are the focal point of defenses, but he still puts up the numbers."
Garrity picked up added experience this past summer as a member of the USA Basketball National Team, which played at the FIBA 22 and Under Championship in Melbourne, Australia. The United States team finished fifth in the event and Garrity was one of the leading scorers on the team at 11.8 points per game. Garrity led the United States team in scoring in two of their eight games.
"Pat has meant a great deal to our program the past three years and I know he wants to go out with a bang in his senior year," says MacLeod. "Pat is what college basketball and college athletics are all about. He is a super student, a great player and a wonderful person. He is a great combination."
Notre Dame will begin year three in the BIG EAST with some holes to fill from last season's team due to graduation. The surprise player on the team last year was point guard Admore White, who dished out 201 assists as a senior and will be sorely missed. Guard Pete Miller started all but one game last season, center Matt Gotsch started 17 games last year, while forward Marcus Young came off the bench to play valuable minutes and all four graduates will be missed.
"We do have Pat Garrity back, but you can't underestimate what last year's seniors meant to the team," says MacLeod. "They gave us a great work ethic and they all had great heart."
Garrity's only fellow senior on the '97-'98 Irish will be hard-playing and floor-hitting forward Derek Manner. Manner started all 30 games last season, averaging 7.1 points per contest and 5.1 rebounds.
"Derek Manner knows only one speed -- and that's full," says MacLeod. "Everytime he is on the floor he gives 100 percent and that has been his trademark since he arrived at Notre Dame."
The success of this year's Irish team could largely depend on the junior class. Both juniors have made contributions to the program at one point or another the past two years, but now the challenge will be for them to do it on a consistent basis.
Center Phil Hickey will inherit the starting role from Gotsch and is the team's biggest player at 6-10. Hickey averaged 3.6 points per game last season in 12.8 minutes of playing time, but came up big in several games, including 13 points in the NIT second round win over TCU and 12 points in a key overtime win over Connecticut.
"Phil knows what he has to do this season," says MacLeod. "He has had some big games over the past two seasons, but now he knows the role is for him to fill."
With the graduation of Miller at shooting guard, Antoni Wyche will be a likely replacement at that spot.
"It will be important for Antoni to play a big role this season," says MacLeod. "Antoni has played well over the past two years and now it is time for him to step up."
The Notre Dame sophomore class consists of shooting guard Keith Friel, who will contend for more playing time in Miller's absence, and point guard Jimmy Dillon, who will look to help fill White's void.
Three freshmen will join the Irish program this season in point guard Martin Ingelsby of Philadelphia, Pa., and Archbishop Carroll High School; forward Hans Rasmussen of Portland, Ore., and Portland Central Catholic High School; forward Leviticus Williamson of Spring, Texas, and Spring High School; and center Peter Oluka Okwalinga of Nairobi, Kenya.
Ingelsby averaged 19.4 points per game with six assists and three steals as a senior last year and shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line. He received the prestigious William Markward Award as the outstanding high school basketball player in Philadelphia. Ingelsby is the son of former Villanova guard Tom Ingelsby, who was the starting guard for the 1971 Villanova team that advanced to the NCAA championship game.
Rasmussen missed the last 11 games of his senior season after fracturing his ankle. He averaged 16 points per game, 10 rebounds, 5.5 blocked shots and shot 58 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the foul line before being injured.
Williamson was one of 10 players picked all-state in Texas and averaged 23.7 points per game and 12.5 rebounds. He scored 40 points twice and 30 points seven times during his senior campaign.
Okwalinga has played club basketball in his native Kenya in the highest division.
"Last season, our team made some very important inroads," says MacLeod. "We won more BIG EAST games, the Joyce Center became a tough place to play again and we got people excited about Notre Dame basketball. The challenge for our team this year is to continue to improve and continue to strive to become one of the best teams in the country."