Nov. 28, 1997
Friel Makes an Impact from Behind the Arc
By Kyle Doty
Count to two. You have now had longer to think than Keith Friel did about the biggest shot of his career to date at Notre Dame. Friel's winning three-pointer,with just one tenth of a second remaining on the clock against Athletes in Action, jump-started the season for the sophomore shooting guard and for Fighting Irish basketball.
"It was a big boost for us," says Friel. "Athletes in Action had already proven that they were a good team by beating Michigan and Indiana, so they provided us with a big test early in the season. I'm glad I could help the team pass that test. I know there will be many upcoming challenges in our conference schedule, so it was good experience to be challenged this early in the season."
Burying that three-pointer to beat Athletes in Action just verified the reason that Friel came to Notre Dame.
"Shooting the ball is why they recruited me here, it's that simple," says Friel.
During his freshman year Friel made 18 field goals, 15 of which came from behind the three-point stripe. The loss of Ryan Hoover two years ago, meant that head coach John MacLeod and his staff had to find a shooter to replace him. They found their pure shooter in Keith Friel.
Friel had an up and down freshman season, as he suffered from abdominal and knee injuries, which limited his role in the Irish lineup. He acknowledged his role and looked at his freshman year as a transitional time where he could learn more about the game at the Division I level.
"In high school, I preferred the transition game, to the half court style," says Friel. "I liked to run out and fill the lanes and get open jumpers. We don't play that style of game at Notre Dame, but I feel I can be just as successful in this type of offense as I was in high school."
Now in his sophomore season, Friel is optimistic about his future and the future of the program. His decision to come to Notre Dame was based on the need for a player at his position, and also to play in the BIG EAST Conference, which he feels has the "toughest competition in the country." Like any other good athlete, Friel seeks improvement.
"I need to be more consistent, both on the offensive and defensive end," says Friel. "I would like to contribute more points, but I also want to be a factor on the defensive end of the floor. I have improved my defense by being able to fight through screens, so I can step out and defend some of the better shooting guards I will have to defend in the BIG EAST this season."
Friel has put on fifteen pounds since last season, which he believes will add the strength he needs to help him compete against the bigger guards in the conference. The ultimate goal for Friel and the Irish is to compete with every team in the BIG EAST conference, every night. The Irish proved their mettle last season by going 7-2 at home versus conference opponents, which tied for the best in the conference along with four other teams.
"We want to make our mark on the road this season," says Friel. "Last season we were very successful at home, and we need to continue that, but in order for us to reach the upper echelon of the BIG EAST we will need to be more consistent on the road," Friel says of the Irish.
One way the Irish could do this is by scoring more points on the road. Notre Dame scored over 80 points just six times last year in thirty games, but not once on the road. Every time the Irish scored over 80 points they were victorious.
Scoring is a focal point of Friel's game. His impact comes mostly in the form of the three-point shots. As a senior at Oyster River High School in Durham, N.H., Friel made 44 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Entering the Northeastern game, eight of Friel's 10 attempts from the field this season, have come from three point range. He has been successful on three of those eight attempts. If Friel can continue his success from long range it will add an important element to the Irish offense which they have lacked over the past two seasons.
"I think we are a lot more potent offensively this year than we were last year," says Friel. "That added punch will hopefully put us over the top in the close games."
Along with an improved offense, Friel looks for the Irish to be improved on the defensive end of the court as well.
"In the Big EAST, defense is key," says Friel. "For example, Connecticut is noted for extending the floor with their pressure defense. If we can adjust and break the press then I should have open shots off transition. BIG EAST basketball is competitive, and that often translates to an aggressive defensive game. We have to step up the pressure as much as our opponents. If we can do that consistently this year, then we will be successful."
Talking with Keith Friel reveals that he is not the stereotypical scorer. He is not as interested in his individual achievements as he is in the success of the team. Friel wants to score to help the team, because his satisfaction comes with winning.
"I came to Notre Dame because it is a great academic institution, and it afforded me the opportunity to achieve athletically as well," says Friel. "Succeeding on the court comes in the form of improvement and winning is the result of that. I want to help the team win."
Friel will continue to see more playing time, and as he does Irish fans can look forward to seeing more heroics.