Harangody's goal: NCAA tourney
Irish star focused on erasing memory of last season
Luke Harangody pleased one Big East team and disappointed 15 others when he announced his return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
"He's obviously the kind of guy that can hasten your retirement," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "Certainly when your player of the year returns, and you know he's going to be better, it's great for the league, but it's a significant challenge to any team who's going to play against him."
There is no doubt around Notre Dame that the 6-foot-8, 251-pound Harangody will be an advanced version compared to last season's. In the six weeks Harangody took to test the NBA draft waters, he improved his perimeter and interior defense, extended his shooting range, became fitter and gained confidence. All that, and he's the still monster player who thrashed Big East opponents for 25.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game last season.
"Certainly, we're thrilled to have him back," Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Brey wanted to make sure Harangody was returning to South Bend, Ind., for more than simply enhancing his draft stock. Harangody assured his coach he had a larger agenda.
"We talked about that right away," Harangody said. "It was going to be for the team. I'm trying to lead the team and get back to the NCAA tournament. I just want to make it back to the NCAA tournament. That's my only goal this season."
Last season was a rough one for Notre Dame. Coming off two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the Irish endured a seven-game losing streak in January, finished 8-10 in the Big East and ended up in the NIT.
The road back to the NCAAs isn't a given even with Harangody's return. The recent season-ending injury of 6-8 junior swingman Scott Martin was a devastating blow for Notre Dame. Brey thought his team would likely be predicted to finish no better than 10th in the Big East with the loss of Martin.
Harangody has Notre Dame finishing quite higher.
"I feel we can finish in the top four in the Big East," Harangody said. "I think we have the talent that can shock a lot of people."
Harangody's priority may be winning, followed by making himself a first-round lock for the 2010 draft, something that couldn't be guaranteed this year. But Brey is also concerned about his statistics. Harangody is on the verge of a number of records, and Brey sees them as being important.
Going into this season, Harangody is 738 points shy of breaking Austin Carr's school record of 2,560 points and 370 rebounds away from topping Tom Hawkins' 1,318. He also can pass Lawrence Moten's Big East all-time scoring record of 1,406 with 370 points and Derrick Coleman's conference rebounding record of 701 with 162 boards this season.
"When I started here, nobody ever thought anyone would make a run at Austin Carr's scoring record," Brey said. "That's a realistic thing. It's staggering to think about the guys who have come through this league."
Brey is confident that Harangody will join many of the Big East's past stars in the NBA ranks after another productive college season.
"One thing I told him and his family, 'I think my track record with you is pretty darn good,'" Brey said. "'Look at your numbers. If you look at the track record as the teacher and coach, the odds say you will be better prepared to be a professional and NBA player.' The theme I heard was he's going to be a 10-year NBA guy. His motor is just too good."
Harangody believes that even more after going through the pre-draft process.
"I think it was definitely a positive experience," Harangody said. "I learned I can hang with anybody. I learned a lot about the defensive side of the game. I had to guard guys. It showed me I can. I didn't have a difficult time with anybody."
Wainwright can't like that news, either.
NOTE: Notre Dame is not hosting a Midnight Madness event.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.