Milestones, redemption await Harangody
If he decides to return to ND, Harangody has plenty left to accomplish
CHICAGO -- Luke Harangody has a chance to do something special at Notre Dame.
Or he can choose a more pedestrian career route relative to his hoop world.
Harangody might be in the toughest predicament of any player who has kept his amateur status and he could withdraw from the NBA draft by the June 15 deadline.
He could return to Notre Dame and make a run at becoming the Irish's all-time leading scorer (passing Austin Carr), finish as the top scorer ever in the Big East and salvage a career that took a decidedly downward turn after Notre Dame's collapse last season sent the team from an NCAA lock to an NIT participant.
Harangody has a shot to become a legend with the Irish and relish a final season that, with his presence, would make him Notre Dame's version of Tyler Hansbrough.
He would have a real shot of being a two-time Big East Player of the Year with a one-season hiatus in between. Harangody won the award in 2008 and was eclipsed last season by Pitt's DeJuan Blair and Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet.
But with the league's vacuum of talent (Blair, Thabeet, Syracuse's Jonny Flynn, Pitt's Sam Young and Louisville's Terrence Williams are all departing), the opening is there for Harangody to win back the award.
The other option is this: Stay in the NBA draft, likely go in the second round, see if he can earn some guaranteed money, stay out of the developmental league and try to avoid a career of anonymity in the NBA.
That still may occur after a senior year at Notre Dame, but he could have a celebrated four-year career in South Bend that will forever have relevance. "I don't know," Harangody said during the NBA's draft combine last week about what he's going to do. "It depends where my head is at the time. I couldn't tell you much right now."
For those who are hung up on measurements, the numbers at the combine didn't lie. Harangody looked small on the court when he was out there with the bigs. He measured that way as well.
He was 6-foot-6 without shoes and 6-8 with the sneakers he would wear in a game. His wingspan was 6-9.
Comparatively speaking, USC's Taj Gibson went 6-8, 6-9, 7-4. Hansbrough was 6-8, 6-9, 6-11. Blair was 6-5, 6-6, 7-2. Xavier's Derrick Brown was 6-7, 6-8, 7-2 and Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt was 6-10, 6-11, 7-1.
Blair is considered a fringe pick for the lottery. Brown and Hansbrough are likely going somewhere in the first round. Gibson has a real shot to sneak into the back side of the first, while Harangody would probably be slotted ahead of Heytvelt. But that gives you an idea of the negatives that are going against him.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey spun it a different way, claiming that NBA decision-makers saw Harangody thinner in person.
"TV doesn't do him justice to show how lean he is," Brey said. "His body fat has gone way down. I thought it was good for people to see him running. I don't think people think he can move like that or handle the ball like that. Everybody loves him because he competes. They'll love to watch him play, but someone will have to pull the trigger on a first-round pick. That's been the question the whole time."
Harangody said he's just getting into the workout process. He has committed to group workouts in the next two weeks at Golden State, Minnesota and New Jersey before making a final decision.
Late Thursday night, Brey and Harangody went out to dinner in Chicago.
Brey listened. Harangody talked.
Brey said he didn't try to influence him. He said it was Harangody who mentioned last season and the team that could be in place next season.
But a possible return by Harangody (23.3 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game), with fellow seniors/guards Tory Jackson (10.6 ppg, 4.9 assists per game) and Jonathan Peoples (3.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and transfers Ben Hansbrough (Mississippi State) and Scott Martin (Purdue), would give the Irish as formidable a five as any team outside of Villanova and West Virginia. Notre Dame would have as much of a chance as any other team in the league to finish in the Big East's top three.
"I told him there isn't a free pass to come back," Brey said. "You've got to come back for the right reasons. If you can't, then go for it and be a second-round pick. If that's what happens, scratch it out because you've always been a person who has proven people wrong. But this can't be a consolation prize. And we can't be discussing his draft status three days a week."
Brey said he was the one who pushed Harangody to experiment with the draft. But he reminded him that he's not going to get fewer shots if he returns.
The offense is going to still go through him, and it will likely be lengthened out on the perimeter with Harangody's expanding face-up game.
"If he comes back, we'll have a heckuva nucleus," Brey said. "If I didn't have those two guys -- Scott Martin and Ben Hansbrough -- then he might be in a different frame of mind. He practiced with them. If we didn't have them, I would tell him, 'quite frankly, you have to go.' But the league comes back to Earth a little bit, and we might not play the schedule. But who knows, if he does, the league might screw us again."
Brey said that with 23 wins, Harangody, Jackson and Peoples have a chance to become the all-time winningest program at Notre Dame.
And it doesn't end there.
With 1,823 career points, Harangody needs 738 to break Carr's school record. He has 949 rebounds and needs 370 to become Notre Dame's all-time leading rebounder, too. Harangody has 1,036 Big East points. With 370 points, he could eclipse the record of 1,405 set by Syracuse's Lawrence Moten. He also needs 162 more rebounds to become the all-time leading rebounder in the league.
Boston College's Troy Bell is the last Big East player to win the conference Player of the Year award twice. He did it in 2003 by himself after sharing it two seasons earlier with Notre Dame's Troy Murphy. Murphy, Connecticut's Richard Hamilton, Georgetown's Patrick Ewing and St. John's Chris Mullin have all won two Big East Player of the Year awards.
But more than just the records, Harangody has a chance to make good on a season that completely went awry for the Irish.
They were the team to watch after a Maui Invitational semifinal win over Texas and a decent outing in a loss to what was presumed to be a far superior North Carolina team in the final.
But the hangover from Hawaii never left.
Notre Dame lost to Ohio State by five in its next marquee game. But then the cracks showed in a shocking six-point loss at St. John's. Two wins against Georgetown and Seton Hall appeared to clean the slate and moved the Irish to 3-1 in the league, 12-3 overall.
But the next group of games was at Louisville, at Syracuse, Connecticut, Marquette, at Pitt, at Cincinnati and at UCLA. Notre Dame lost them all. Suddenly, at 12-10, 3-7 in the league, it was reeling. A 33-point dismantling of Louisville proved to be more of an anomaly than reality for the Irish. Notre Dame didn't beat an NCAA team the rest of the regular season, despite having chances against West Virginia (twice), Connecticut and Villanova. "Our season didn't go as expected," Harangody said. "I didn't want to go out on my career like that. Going back to school wouldn't be the worst thing."
Our season didn't go as expected. I didn't want to go out on my career like that. Going back to school wouldn't be the worst thing.” -- Luke Harangody
Brey is one of the more optimistic coaches around.
He has accepted the failures of last season and moved on. He wants to get back to the NCAA tournament and make another run. Notre Dame had been to five previous NCAAs under Brey.
He is scheduling next season with a return trip in mind or at least to minimize the losses. Notre Dame is in a tournament in the Chicago area with Iowa State, Northwestern and Saint Louis and plays UCLA at home and "that's it" for marquee nonconference games.
"Then it's our league," Brey said. "It's always enough in our league to play your way in. Even after we lost seven, we had plenty of time to play our way in. We were one big one away from being in the discussion."
But the conversation about Notre Dame and an NCAA bid next season is moot if Harangody doesn't return.
"We were all disappointed because we felt we had a good enough team to get a bid, but we couldn't deliver," Brey said. "He has a chance to lead us back to the tournament."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.