Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 52 of 55 JUNE/JULY 2019 53 foes such as Kentucky, USC and North Carolina, plus West Virginia, Virginia and Marquette. With Ellis fulfilling his potential in a lineup that featured four seniors, the Irish managed to pull off several up- sets, including versus No. 2 UCLA and at No. 10 Syracuse, to finish the regular season 14-14. It then was the runner-up to Virginia in the NIT for a final 18-15 mark. That was as good as it was going to get for MacLeod, even with Williams medically cleared to play again in 1993 and 1994. The recruiting issues began catching up after Ellis' graduation, re- sulting in 9-18 and 12-17 outcomes the next two seasons. "This program needs to get into a conference," stressed Louisville head coach Rick Pitino of Notre Dame, echo- ing statements from many other op- posing coaches who empathized with MacLeod. Finally, in 1995-96, Notre Dame joined the premier league, the cut- throat Big East. The problem was that it was akin to moving from eight- grade mathematics to calculus in one fell swoop. It was starting from square one again for MacLeod despite already serving four years in basketball purga- tory. That initial season in the Big East reaped an uptick in recruiting with a well-regarded four-man class joining future NBA player Pat Garrity, whom MacLeod signed in 1994. Alas, two of the prized members of that 1995 class would depart from the operation: top-25 forward Gary Bell for never quite fitting in, and point guard Doug Gottlieb following his freshman year for the use of stolen credit cards. Consistently overmatched in person- nel on the court, the respect for the job MacLeod and Garrity were doing re- sulted in them getting named Big East Coach of the Year and Big East Player of the Year in 1997, respectively — with an 8-10 record (and 16-14 overall). TIME RUNS OUT Several times I had one-on-one time with MacLeod in his office or on the phone, and while the frustration he felt was profound, he never bad-mouthed anyone and comported himself with the utmost professionalism and class. By 1998 he was beginning to get more of a foothold with recruiting, landing future NBA star Troy Murphy, complemented by sharpshooting Da- vid Graves, who would finish his ca- reer among the top 10 scoring leaders at Notre Dame, and enforcer Harold Swanagan, who has worked more than a decade under current head coach Mike Brey. A year later, MacLeod signed guard Matt Carroll, who would go on to play 10 years in the NBA. By then, the sand was running out of the hour glass. Another 8-10 mark in the Big East (14-16 overall) in 1999 when Murphy, Graves and Swanagan were freshmen eventually precipitated a coaching change. Shepherding Notre Dame basketball through its most try- ing decade/era ever had run its course for MacLeod. He had set the table and brought the groceries — but was no longer welcome to stay for the meal. Eight straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament bid was not ap- pealing on any résumé, and there were enough internal blunders and strategy missteps to also necessitate a change. Two years later, following a one-year stopover by Matt Doherty before de- parting to his alma mater North Caro- lina, first-year head coach Brey and the Irish captured the Western Division of the Big East and earned the school's first NCAA Tournament bid in 11 years (and the first such win in 12). Upon winning their side of the league, sophomore Carroll, juniors Murphy, Graves and Swanagan, and senior point guard Martin Ingelsby, — now the head coach at Delaware after working under Brey — person- ally made a group conference call to the once embattled MacLeod to thank him for bringing them together while Notre Dame found its way out of the college basketball wilderness. "Coach MacLeod was a class act on all fronts," Brey said. "He was a great educator to so many young people here at Notre Dame, and I am forever grateful to him for mentoring me when I first got the job here 19 years ago." Yes, the record will always be what it says it is, but MacLeod navigated through the darkest decade in Notre Dame basketball annals and helped make it better for his successors. ✦ Although MacLeod finished with a career record of under .500 in eight seasons at Notre Dame, a key part of his legacy is that his recruits laid the foundation for success achieved by his succes- sors, Matt Doherty (1999-2000) and Mike Brey (2000-present). PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA Power Forward U. Although Notre Dame struggled on the basketball court during the John MacLeod era from 1991-99, the one constant throughout his rein was a premier future NBA first-round draft pick at power forward. • In MacLeod's first season (1991-92), senior LaPhonso Ellis — ineligible the second semester of his junior year and not in the best physical condition — became the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft while averaging 17.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. • The following two seasons, Monty Williams — sidelined the previous two years because of a hypertro- phic cardiomyopathy diagnosis — was cleared for action by the Notre Dame medical staff and became the next first-round pick (No. 24 overall) while averaging 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest. Earlier this month Williams was named the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, where MacLeod held the same position from 1973-87. • From 1995-98, Pat Garrity was a one-man force for the Fighting Irish, earning Big East Player of the Year honors as a junior and first-team laurels again as a senior when he averaged 23.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. He was selected No. 19 overall in the first round. • In MacLeod's final season, recruit Troy Murphy succeeded Garrity and became Big East Freshman of the Year while averaging 19.2 points and a league-leading 9.9 rebounds per game — before becoming a two-time conference player of the year. He would be the No. 14 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft after his junior season. — Lou Somogyi

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