- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- Come April, Kentucky freshman guard John Wall will likely be the name you remember most from this season if he leads a resurgent Wildcats team to the Final Four on his way to becoming the top pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
But if there is one name, one awkward-looking shot, one player who enters the season as the face of the sport, with face time on nationally televised games that is unmatched by most returning players, then it's Notre Dame senior forward Luke Harangody -- if for no other reason than that his numbers are absurdly high.
"I don't think there's a bigger name," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "No one has had bigger production than he has going into his senior year and no one else has played more national TV games."
Harangody won Big East Player of the Year honors in 2008. He didn't win the award last season when the Irish floundered down the stretch, losing seven straight to play their way out of the NCAA tournament.
Harangody declared for the NBA draft last spring and seriously considered staying in during the Chicago pre-draft camp, even though he was a likely second-round pick. But he caught himself before making a mistake.
"I just knew I wasn't going to have a senior year again," Harangody said.
Harangody has a chance to end his career as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in the Big East. He currently stands at 1,036 points, 369 points below Syracuse's Lawrence Moten (1,405). Harangody averaged 23.3 points a game last season. Harangody has 540 rebounds, putting him within reach of the all-time league leader in Syracuse's Derrick Coleman (701). Harangody averaged 11.8 boards last season. He also has a chance to pass Austin Carr (2,560) on the school's all-time scoring list (Harangody has 1,823) as well as top Tom Hawkins in rebounds (1,318 to Harangody's 949).
"For that guy to become the all-time leading scorer in the league's history? Are you kidding me? The guy from Schererville, Ind.?" Brey rhetorically said. "When I'm around now, he is a household name because of how he plays. He's a throwback guy and people connect to him. He's undersized so people wonder what position does he play? And he's got a funny shot."
When quizzed about who would be the face of the sport in the preseason, a number of college coaches couldn't come up with one name quick enough. Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg had to think about it for a while, going conference by conference and seeing if anyone was more recognizable than Harangody. Miami's Frank Haith didn't hesitate to say that Harangody is a first-team All-American and one of the "most talked about players in the country."
Kansas coach Bill Self, who potentially has two first-team All-Americans on his roster in Aldrich and Collins, had this to say about the Notre Dame forward: "There was no returning player that has produced more than Harangody. A year ago, there were plenty of choices like [North Carolina's] Tyler Hansbrough, [Oklahoma's] Blake Griffin, and [Davidson's] Stephen Curry, but this season there's no question that Harangody comes in with the most name recognition."
But Oklahoma's Jeff Capel wasn't so sure.
"I'm not sure if Harangody is more nationally known," said Capel, who coached last season's national player of the year and No. 1 NBA draft pick Blake Griffin. "I think he's very underrated. I'm not sure everyone knows how good his numbers really are."
While Harangody isn't as famous, or as accomplished as Hansbrough, he said he did admire how Hansbrough handled last season as a model. Hansbrough returned for his senior season with a mission to win a title. He accomplished that goal. Harangody is realistic -- winning the national championship might not be in the vernacular for the Irish. Losing Purdue transfer Scott Martin to a torn ACL was a crushing blow. The addition of Mississippi State transfer guard Ben Hansbrough is a huge plus and the return of senior guards Jonathan Peoples, Tyrone Nash and lead playmaker Tory Jackson gives the Irish needed experience.
But it will be on Harangody to lead this group to the NCAA tournament after the disappointing finish a season ago. That means younger players like Tim Abromaitis and Carleton Scott, who are both juniors but haven't logged a slew of minutes, will need Harangody to lead them.
"A lot of people will see how I can be a senior leader," Harangody said of his draft status. "I see what Tyler did for his group and I could do that for ours in going to the NCAA tournament."
The focus is on Harangody, as it has been for a while. He was not known coming out of high school, yet he has become the polarizing figure on the Irish.
"When he was younger, he hated the attention," Brey said. "Now he's poised to take it in stride. He can do this. He's mature. He's our spokesman. He's the one that sets the tone in our locker room and his voice will carry more weight than the coach."
Brey said Harangody won't be alone in doing that with Jackson able to speak up as well. Still, if the Irish are going to be a factor in the Big East and make the NCAAs then Harangody will have to be a national player of the year candidate.
Brey said he told him when Harangody decided to return to school in June that they better enjoy this run. He said it's not going to be an easy ride.
"He's the lightning rod," Brey said. "No one yells at me when we got to Morgantown [W.Va.]. They [the fans] yell at him. And he still gets 20 and 10. There's a lot of demand on him. So I've got to keep him loose. But he understands there's a lot on him."
Being the preseason face of your team, your league and possibly your sport can be a heavy burden to bear.
How does that make him feel?
"Great, to be in the position that any other player in college basketball would want," Harangody said. So how does he live up to it?
"By leading Notre Dame to the NCAA tournament."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
After Notre Dame's disappointing season, Luke Harangody was close to entering the NBA draft. But with so much still to accomplish, both individually and as a team, he knew he had to return to the Fighting Irish.