Day 2: Notre Dame | Traveling Violations
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is eager to do everything he can to help senior guard Chris Thomas become a first-round pick in the 2005 NBA draft. He's talking him up among NBA teams. He's working with Thomas on individual skills.
And he plans on doing what he can during the season to showcase Thomas skills to NBA teams.
The good news is, doing so is completely in line with Notre Dame's team goals this season.
"For Chris, how he needs to play for me is how he is going to be evaluated at the next level," Brey said Thursday. "Can he quarterback? Can he create, get guys involved and then hit an open shot?"
Thomas has proven he can score. The flashy guard averaged 19.7 points a game last season. But he is not the kind of explosive athlete who is going to be the focal point of an NBA offense.
What the league will want out of the 6-foot-1-inch Indianapolis native are pure point guard skills. Since Notre Dame has plenty of offensive options – from off guard Chris Quinn to big man Torin Francis – Thomas has the chance to show he can lead a team.
"The great thing about Chris is he doesn't have an ego," Brey said. "He doesn't look at [new players as], 'Hey, he may steal something from me.'"
If it works out for Thomas, then it is going to work out for Notre Dame.
Attention Illinois: Bret Bearup and I will be at the Tumble Inn (Stumble Out) Tavern at 302 S. Neil Street in Champaign starting at 5 p.m. Friday prior to the Illini exhibition game. If you are going to the game, in the area or just willing to drive long distance for free beer then come on by.
We love hanging out, talking hoops and generally shooting the breeze. Past fan events have never failed to entertain. With Tabmaster Bearup in the house, this is a deal to end all deals.
We won't have a big banner or anything, but we should be easy to spot. Bearup is 6-foot-8 after all. Otherwise, just look for the two good-looking white guys.
We slipped into our favorite South Bend watering hole, McCormick's, for a couple drinks and some NBA viewing. The downtown spot is as hospitable as it is unpretentious with our main man Mickey the Bartender running the show. In a town with plenty of blue-collar bars to choose from, McCormick's remains our favorite.
We caught up with Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White for a couple minutes. The Irish football team has a huge game Saturday at Tennessee, so most thoughts around the Joyce Center were with Ty Willingham's team.
White has made a unique impact on college basketball. Two of his sons are assistant coaches; Michael at the University of Mississippi and Danny freshly promoted at Ohio University.
The interesting part is that Danny wants to be a college administrator like his father, not a basketball coach. But he was pressed into coaching duties at Ohio when the Bobcats lost assistant Kevin Kuwik, whose National Guard unit was called up in September.
So while we like the Whites, Kuwik is undoubtedly our favorite assistant college basketball coach right now.
Brey already has four verbal commitments from quality members of the high school Class of 2005. His staff is excellent; associate head coach Sean Kearney and assistants Lewis Preston and Rod Balanis are simply getting it done. By shoring up recruiting seven months early, Notre Dame spent last summer watching sophomores and juniors while everyone else was chasing seniors. That's a huge advantage.
When Brey came here from Delaware he talked about the need for Notre Dame to reestablish itself as a national program. Four years into his tenure, his roster features players from 11 states.
We always enjoy staying at the Downtown Marriott in South Bend, and one of the reasons is the lively staff that makes the place seem a bit more like home. The night staff featuring Crystal of Granger, Ind. and Lenn of South Bend were typically great.
Notre Dame fans are still a bit uneasy with the football program, which is 5-3. But after the loss to Brigham Young there were plenty of people predicting a three-win season. Instead Notre Dame is almost certain to get bowl eligible and still can win eight games.
One of the reasons ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit is our favorite college football analyst is that he predicted exactly this kind of season for Notre Dame, and stuck with it even when half the world was down on the Irish. Turns out he was right.
I screwed up the Big Ten all-time three point leader note from yesterday. The current leader in career threes made is Penn State's Pete Lisicky with 332, which means Michigan State's Chris Hill needs only 87 to tie. Michigan's Louis Bullock, who no longer exists according to the Big Ten record book due to his involvement with booster Ed Martin, would have been No. 1 with 339 had he not taken the extra benefits.
Valued reader emails:
Your submissions, with my responses in italics:
This alum enjoys the positive exposure State gets from ice hockey in Spartan Stadium (world record attendance), basketball at Ford Field (world record attendance), killer schedule and all. I think this indicates an imaginative college sports marketing program with confidence in the product. In addition, I hear no hint of hanky panky in the sports program nor would I believe it from Izzo.
Harbor Springs, Mich.
Chicken fried chicken is not redundant. It is similar to chicken fried steak if you've ever heard of that. The first chicken means that the slab of meat was fried in chicken grease instead of oil or lard.
This was one of many emails questioning my knowledge of chicken fried chicken and chicken fried steak. Relax everyone. I don't work for The New York Times; I've had many [too many] chicken fried steaks in my life. But chicken fried chicken still is redundant. Besides, it ranks as the most ineffective form of "health" food I've ever heard.
College basketball is going to lose one of its great characters and best guys next spring when Vermont coach Tom Brennan retires. Brennan announced Thursday he will step down after this his 19th season in Burlington.
Brennan has run a terrific program at Vermont, reaching the last two NCAA tournaments despite dealing with a small population and limited budget. He is perhaps best known as the coach whose second job is hosting a popular local radio show.
College coaches say he is a link to a long-ago era in their profession. When a team visits Burlington, Brennan always calls the opposing head coach and tries to take him out to dinner or drinks. Most are stunned, then accept. In an increasingly cutthroat business Brennan is a refreshing, grounded, egoless act.
"This will mark nineteen of the most wonderful years of my life and the support from the people here has never wavered," Brennan said.
Here's hoping he enjoys every minute of this his final season.
Total mileage thus far: 236.4 miles.
Next campaign stop: West Lafayette, Ind.