July 29, 2003
The indications are evident.
When Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey assumed the head
coaching duties in July of 2000, he had one vision - to restore the
past glory and tradition of a basketball program looking for an
identity. Brey envisioned securing an elite status for the Irish
After three consecutive NCAA tournament berths and last year's Sweet
16 appearance, Brey and the Irish appear headed in the right
direction. When Notre Dame was bracketed in the West Regional with
the likes Arizona, Duke and Kansas, it was a clear testament to
"Last year's appearance in the Sweet 16 certainly was a strong
endorsement for the momentum our program has gained during the past
three years," Brey says. "Last season our players talked about
getting past the first and second rounds and into that second weekend
in March all season long. One of the trademarks of building a
program is to develop consistency. I think we've done that the past
With success, comes a level of expectation for consistency. No one
knows of the pressures of getting to the top of the summit better
than Brey, a participant in six Final Fours during his eight seasons
on the Duke coaching staff.
The 2003-04 Notre Dame team returns three starters and seven monogram
winners from last year's squad that finished with a 24-10 record and
recorded the most wins since the 1986-87 campaign. Depth will be the
hallmark of this year's team as the Irish will boast a potent attack
from both the perimeter and inside.
Hopes for the upcoming season were bolstered when junior point guard
Chris Thomas announced his plans to return to school after entering
his name in the NBA Draft in early May. Thomas, one of the nation's
most complete backcourt players, has been a primary catalyst for
Notre Dame in his first two seasons. His ability to score and
distribute the ball makes him one of the nation's most talented
players. Thomas' return will certainly heighten the level of
expectation for the upcoming season.
"With Chris coming back we can look to this year and be very excited
about our basketball team," Brey says. "But I think the key to this
season will be that we have a lot of guys in our locker room who have
experienced winning and have been part of the success we have enjoyed
the past three seasons.
"Our players expect a lot of themselves and they expect to do great
things," he continues. "It's neat that they have such a high level
of expectation. When the goals and hopes are really high, then the
dreams can be big."
While the return of Thomas is an assurance that Notre Dame will be
bonafide contender nationally, this Irish squad will be more than
just a one-player team. Brey is known for his ability to both
develop talent and recruit talented players. This year's returnees
and newcomers will provide Notre Dame with its deepest team since
Brey's arrival three years ago.
Notre Dame's frontline play will be strong with the return of
sophomore Torin Francis, who started all 34 games for the Irish as
well as senior Tom Timmermans and junior Jordan Cornette, two
part-time starters a year ago. Sophomores Rick Cornett and Omari
Peterkin are expected to contend for increased playing time and
provide the Irish with depth up front.
Brey's backcourt will be bolstered by the experience of senior
Torrian Jones, one of the team's most versatile players at both ends
of the floor, and sophomore Chris Quinn, who will rotate with Thomas
between point guard and shooting guard.
"There's going to be plenty of competition for playing time in the
preseason," Brey says. "I expect that our practices, as they have in
the past, will continue to be very competitive. Our depth all-around
will be one of strengths this year."
Notre Dame also has assembled a talented freshman class that features
sharpshooter Colin Falls, guard Russell Carter and forward Omari
"I'm really excited about our incoming freshman class," Brey says.
"All three of these players are very athletic and will add
versatility to our lineup. When looking at this class as a whole, it
certainly is one that is going to help move this program forward."
One of the challenges Brey will issue to his team this season is a
better commitment to defense and guarding an opposing player. The
Irish head coach was somewhat disappointed by his team's field goal
percentage defense (Notre Dame allowed its opponents to shoot 41.2
percent from the field). In Brey's first two seasons, that had been
strength of his team.
"We relied on out-scoring people too much last season," Brey says.
"I don't want to take anything away from our offensive potency, but
we weren't good enough defensively, and that is something that
disappointed me. With all of the teams I coach, we're always going
to be able to score a lot of points, but from the onset of this
season, we're going to stress a strong commitment to defense as well."
While Notre Dame is expected to once again assemble a strong
offensive arsenal, Brey has to replace two of its top three scorers
lost to graduation- Matt Carroll and Dan Miller. Carroll capped off
his remarkable career as the school's leading three-point shooter.
In his final season in an Irish uniform, he averaged 19.5 points en
route to earning first-team all-BIG EAST honors and honorable mention
All-America accolades. Miller averaged an impressive 13.9 points per
contest and was the team's second-leading rebounder at 5.7 boards per
With the losses of Carroll and Miller, the biggest question mark
facing Brey will be finding a couple more outside shooting threats.
Thomas is known for his three-point accuracy, but also look for
Jones, Cornette and Quinn to elevate their game from beyond the arc.
Falls is a player in the same mold as Carroll so it may be just a
matter of time before he becomes a steady contributor to the Irish's
scoring attack from the perimeter.
"Matt and Dan are certainly huge losses for us," Brey says. "I think
we can replace them with a number of different guys. Jones and
Cornette will provide us with an outside game on the wing, and then
throw in Thomas and Quinn and also Falls and Carter. As we have in
the past, we want to be able to stretch defenses out."
The versatility of Notre Dame's lineup will allow Brey the luxury of
experimenting with different combinations on the floor. The Irish
coach will utilize that option to create havoc for opposing defenses.
An untested and inexperienced frontline posed question marks for
Notre Dame at the start of last season. With three key contributors
- senior Tom Timmermans, junior Jordan Cornette and sophomore Torin
Francis - back from that team, this will certainly not be an area of
concern for Brey this season. It will be the first time during
Brey's tenure that the Irish will have the fortune of returning all
of its frontcourt players.
Depth will not be an issue. In addition to Timmermans, Cornette and
Francis, the Irish will also look to sophomores Rick Cornett and
Omari Peterkin for considerable contributions off the bench.
"Having Tom, Jordan and Torin all back will certainly give us a lot
of options up front," Brey says. "We have three guys returning who
saw a lot of playing time last season. They are seasoned veterans
with a great understanding of our program and system and who are
ready to help us reach the next level."
At 6-11, 235 pounds, Timmermans is a force for the Irish underneath
the basket. The Driehuis, Netherlands center enjoyed his best outing
in a Notre Dame uniform last season as he averaged 3.2 points and
4.2 rebounds and earned 11 starts in the 31 contests he played.
Timmermans gives the Irish a physical presence both underneath and
around the basket and he gained greater confidence each time he
stepped onto the floor. He's a very skilled player with excellent
passing abilities and a nice shooting touch.
"I'm excited about Tom," Brey says. "He played with a great deal of
confidence last year and I expect him to carry that into this season.
Tom's a great defensive player and is not afraid to go up against an
opposing team's best player.
"I expect that we're going to see that same defensive intensity from
him this year, but I also believe that he is going to be much more
comfortable offensively. I'll like to see him develop his outside
shooting, but for a guy with his size, he has excellent passing
Brey anticipates that Cornette's game will continue to flourish. The
6-9, 235-pound forward from Cincinnati, Ohio provided solid minutes
for the Irish as a starter and off the bench last season, averaging
3.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots. Cornette's
versatility allows him to play underneath and away from the basket.
It is going to be that versatility which will allow Brey to mix up
his lineup with different matchups on the floor.
"I just love the flexibility that Jordan brings to our lineup," Brey
says. "He's a terrific defensive player and can guard anybody on the
floor. Jordan has the ability to play inside, but also can step away
from the basket and be as effective from the perimeter.
"He's an extremely tough player for opposing teams to defend. What
is most impressive to me about Jordan is that for a big guy, he has
such a high basketball IQ. He really thinks a lot when he is on
floor. He's a great passer and thinks more like a guard. I love
having him on the floor because he's always thinking about game
After just one season, Francis, a member of the '03 BIG EAST
All-Rookie Team, showed why he was one of the most sought after
players in the country coming out of high school. Unquestionably, he
will rank as one of the top big men in the country this season.
In averaging 11.1 points, a team-leading 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocked
shots, Francis' game is one of both power and finesse. A starter in
all 34 games last season, he averaged 28.6 minutes per game. With
the experience he gained and the confidence he attained after last
season, the 6-10, 240-pound forward from Roslindale, Mass., will look
to become more of a first option for the Irish offensively,
especially in the low post. In addition, he'll likely be one of the
nation's top rebounders.
"Similar to what Chris Thomas did in his freshman year, Torin Francis
had a fabulous rookie season," Brey says. "We couldn't have asked
more of him last season. One of the goals that I have talked about
with Torin is that he works to become one of the best rebounders in
"I also think that he can be one of the most dominant players in the
low post both offensively and defensively. Torin is such a
determined player with a hunger for becoming the best player on the
floor. I look for Torin to elevate his game to another level and to
continue to improve all aspects of his game."
After somewhat limited playing time a year ago, Rick Cornette is
looking to become a fixture in the Irish lineup. The 6-8, 244 pound
forward from Country Club Hill, Ill., has an imposing basketball
frame. The second-year player will have a strong physical presence
on the floor this season, while his natural rebounding ability will
be a tremendous asset for Notre Dame. Cornett played in 12 games as
a rookie and averaged 2.5 points and 1.1 rebounds.
"Rick's going to have a bigger role this season and we're counting on
him to be a big part of our team," Brey says. "He has a tremendous
physical presence on the floor as a defensive player. Rick's,
greatest asset is his natural rebounding ability. The coaching staff
and I are anxious to see his development and see how far he has
progressed since the end of season.
Omari Peterkin did not see action as a rookie that allowed him to
develop his skills and become acclimated to Brey's system. The 6-8,
260 pound forward is an extremely skilled basketball player with
great hands and a soft shooting touch. The native of U.S. Virgin
Islands is expected to continue to develop and see playing time this
"Omari is a very skilled basketball player," Brey says. "He has
great hands and knows how to finish around the basket. The biggest
thing that he has to continue to work on is his conditioning. He and
Rick are going to be battling each other for playing time."
Notre Dame's other Omari, Omari Isreal, is somewhat of a question
mark heading into his first season. The 6-8, 220 pound forward from
Rockville, Md., tore his ACL during his final scholastic campaign and
still is recovering from the surgery. He scored more than 1,500
points during his high school career. Isreal has good footwork and
versatility to play in and around the basketball, but also the skill
to move outside.
"Omari's situation is going to be day-to-day," Brey says. "He's an
extremely talented player who gives us great flexibility at the
forward spot. Because of our depth at forward and in the frontcourt,
there isn't going to be a need to hurry his recovery or his
rehabilitation. We're not going to have him rush back, and instead,
be patient with his recovery."
Strong backcourt play has always been vital to the success of Brey's
teams. Notre Dame's backcourt once again will rank as one of the
nation's finest with returnees Chris Thomas, Torrian Jones and Chris
Quinn. This talented trio will be the catalyst to the fortunes of
this year's Irish squad.
Notre Dame got a big boost when Thomas announced his plans to return
for his junior season after entering his name in the spring for the
'03 NBA Draft. A two-year starter for the Irish at point guard, he
may be the best combined scorer and ball distributor in all of
college basketball during the upcoming campaign. Thomas heads into
the season as a bonafide All-America candidate.
The 6-1, 182 pound native of Indianapolis, Ind., was Notre Dame's
second-leading scorer a year ago with an 18.7 scoring average. An
honorable mention All-America selection and second-team all-BIG EAST
honoree, he led the Irish in assists (6.9 per game) for the second
Thomas' extraordinary talent and fearlessness make him a tough
matchup for opposing defenses. His ability to score from anywhere on
the floor and his adept passing skills have made him one of the
nation's most feared players. The one area of Thomas' game that Brey
would like to see him improve is game management.
"I'm excited to have the opportunity to coach Chris Thomas again,"
Brey says. "and he is just as excited about being back at Notre Dame.
"He's one of the country's most exciting players at any position. I
believe his draft experience in May and June has made him a much more
focused player. I think that he is going approach this season in a
much more business-like manner.
"Chris' confidence on the court trickles down to all of our others
players. They feed off of that and he makes us such a better
basketball team. His fearlessness on the court and his ability to
make plays is a winning combination. I've talked to Chris about how
to become better at managing the game, and I look for him to improve
in that area. I do, however, want him to continue to be fearless on
Senior Torrian Jones has displayed great unselfishness in his first
three seasons, and has been someone Brey has been able to count on to
fill any role on the floor. Best known for his defensive prowess,
the 6-4, 195-pound native of Fairless Hills, Pa., will look to become
an all-around threat at both ends of the floor this season. He will
enjoy a more expanded role in the Irish lineup.
Jones averaged 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds last year and played in
33 contests. His impact on the game, however, cannot be measured in
statistics alone. His vocal leadership on the floor will be one of
his greatest contributions this season.
Jones is a slasher that likes to drive to the basket, but he also has
shown the ability to shoot from the outside. Look for him to become
more offensive-minded this season and become more of a scoring threat.
"Torrian's role will be greatly expanded this season," Brey says.
"He'll be our strongest voice in the locker room and his leadership
is going to be very important to the success of our basketball
program. We know that he is one of our best defensive players, but I
think you're going to see a young man who displays more of an
"I like the fact that he is a slasher and can drive to the basket.
Torrian is going to be on the floor a great deal of time this season."
While not as flashy as Thomas, Notre Dame's other point guard, Chris
Quinn, has talents equal to those of his backcourt counterpart.
Although Thomas will handle a major of the point guard duties, Brey
has no qualms about handing the ball over to the 6-2, 178-pound
dynamo from Dublin, Ohio.
Quinn is an excellent ballhandler who rarely turns the ball over. He
played in all 34 games last season and netted 3.9 points and dished
off 1.5 assists. In addition, he turned the ball over just 15 times
in averaging 15.3 minutes on the floor. Like Thomas, he will enjoy
being one of Notre Dame's top three-point threats.
Brey will utilize Quinn primarily at that spot on the floor, but the
flexibility of playing both he and Thomas at either of those two
positions (point and two-guard) will create havoc for opposing
"Chris (Quinn) is looking forward to playing with Chris Thomas in the
backcourt this season," Brey says. 'It's going to be a combination
that is going to work very well for us. He's one of most consistent
players in terms of his demeanor on the court. Chris (Quinn) never
gets rattled on the floor, and that's what makes him so valuable.
"We're going to ask him to play extended minutes this season, to
handle the ball a lot more and to play defense. He needs to hunt his
shot a little bit more this season. Like Chris Thomas, he's a gutsy
player who is going to keep us fearless."
Freshman Colin Falls, a 6-4, 200-pound shooting guard from Parkridge,
Ill., is cut from the same mold as Matt Carroll. By the time his
career at Notre Dame is complete, he certainly will rank as one of
the finest outside shooters in school history. With the graduation
of Carroll and Miller, he becomes a very important part of the
Irish's perimeter attack.
Falls averaged 25.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists during his
final season at Loyola Academy and finished as the career scoring
leader with 2,045 points. He has excellent range from beyond the arc
and is a very good all-around player. Falls also is a strong
"Colin has a tremendous shooting touch and range," Brey says, "but he
showed last summer and during his senior year that he has become a
complete player and not just a shooter. He's a good ballhandler and
is a very versatile athlete at both ends of the floor, although the
strength of his game is as an offensive threat and scorer."
Russell Carter, a 6-4, 190-pound native of Paulsboro, N.J., adds
tremendous depth to the Irish backcourt. An extremely athletic
player, he averaged 30.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists en
route to becoming just the fifth player in South Jersey prep history
to lead the region in scoring in consecutive seasons. Much like
Jones, he is a good defender with strong offensive skills.
"Russell is a great addition to our program because of his athletic
ability," Brey says. "He is an impressive player both offensively
and defensively. He know how to defend, but can also shoot the ball.
Russell also is a very fearless player. He's a great investment for
the future and is going to be someone who is going to continue to
develop and improve. We're anxious to watch his progress."