Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2020

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

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80 MARCH 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WHERE HAVE YOU GONE? Newest Ring of Honor member spearheaded Golden Age of Notre Dame basketball BY LOU SOMOGYI T here had been a conspicuous absence in the Notre Dame Bas- ketball Ring of Honor since its inception in 2010. That void was filled Feb. 1 at Pur- cell Pavilion when three-time All- American Kelly Tripucka (1977-81) saw his No. 44 unfurled in the rafters at halftime during a victory versus Georgia Tech. His era marked the final chapter of the Golden Age of the basketball pro- gram since the end of World War II. From 1968 — the year the Athletics & Convocation Center opened its doors by introducing sophomore phenom Austin Carr — to the heartbreaking loss to BYU in the 1981 NCAA Tourna- ment, the Fighting Irish became a top- 10 fixture in NCAA basketball, reach- ing a crescendo with the program's lone Final Four appearance in 1978. That was the season the freshman Tripucka cracked the starting lineup of a team that would feature 10 play- ers drafted by the NBA. Tripucka became the ninth member of the men's program — and first from that 1978 team — in the Ring of Honor, joining his head coach Dig- ger Phelps and, chronologically, Tom Hawkins, Bob Whitmore, Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, David Rivers, Troy Murphy and Luke Harangody. GLORY DAYS Growing up in a Notre Dame house- hold — father Frank was the quar- terback of the unbeaten 1948 Fight- ing Irish and played professionally 15 years — Kelly Tripucka's interest in basketball was piqued by watching his boyhood hero, Carr, and his competi- tive streak was honed by four older brothers who were star athletes. From 1970-76, Tracy and Todd Tri- pucka were among the nation's scor- ing leaders at Lafayette University. Then T.K. Tripucka suited up at Ford- ham University, and Mark Tripucka played quarterback at Massachu- setts. They imbued a toughness, re- silience and fearlessness in Kelly that followed him throughout his career. "That had everything to do with me developing as a player," he said. "I was always getting knocked around, pushed down, kicked out and told I was too young to play. "I was stubborn to the point where no matter how many times my broth- ers kicked my ball the other way, I always came back." It resulted in him becoming the New Jersey High School Player of the 20th Century by a panel of experts in 1999 for The Newark Star-Ledger. When Tripucka's superb five-man freshman class enrolled in August 1977, the enthusiasm for the program reached a fever pitch, and the brash, ultra-confident Tripucka became a form of a matinee idol. Also enrolling with Tripucka at Notre Dame in 1977 were two other high school All-Americans — Tracy Jackson and Gil Salinas — plus future NBA first-rounder Orlando Woolridge and Stan Wilcox, a former athletics director at Florida State and now an NCAA executive vice president. That 1977-78 team was replete with veteran NBA talent: seniors Don "Duck" Williams and Dave Bat- ton, juniors Bill Laimbeer and Bruce Flowers, and sophomores Rich Bran- ning and Bill Hanzlik. Yet Tripucka stepped into a start- er 's role because of his versatility. He had a textbook jumper from the perimeter, could beat bigger men off the dribble, and with his powerful 6-6 frame was often used in the low post while the 6-11 Laimbeer or 6-9 Batton fired away from the high post. He quickly developed a reputation for performing at his best when the lights were brightest. It began as a freshman when his 15 second-half points helped rally the Irish from a 17-point deficit against No. 1 Marquette in 1978 — and later took MVP honors in the Midwest Re- gional to get to the Final Four. "The big stage never scared me; it motivated me," Tripucka said. "Those were the games that were more fun because everybody's watching." Reaching the program's lone Final Four was the highlight of a sensa- tional four-year run that included: • A 92-26 record, the best winning percentage (.780) by one Irish class in the post-World War II era. • A top-10 ranking in 58 of the 64 regular-season weeks from 1977-81. • Nineteen victories against ranked foes, four of them versus No. 1. Tripucka, a three-time All-American, recently became the first Irish player from the legendary 1978 Final Four team to be inducted into the Notre Dame Basketball Ring of Honor. He is shown here at the cer- emony Feb. 1 at Purcell Pavilion with his family. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA Kelly Tripucka, 1977-81 Forward

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