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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM PRESEASON 2022 59 MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL P erhaps the best display of the fifth- year emphasis for Notre Dame for- ward Nate Laszewski was a missed shot that ended a stilted possession during a late-July practice. Laszewski caught a pass in the mid- post during Notre Dame's 12th and final summer five-on-five session July 19 and took matters into his own hands. He probed, sensed he couldn't back down his defender, turned around and fired a fall-away jumper from about 12 feet. It missed. Bad possession? On paper, sure. Bad shot? Maybe. But not in the context of the challenge head coach Mike Brey issued Laszewski upon his June 1 withdrawal from the NBA Draft for one more college season. A challenge that Laszewski has leaned into. "Being more aggressive with my shot, making more plays off the dribble," Laszewski said. "Being involved, being a leader." It's all geared toward Laszewski going from role player to centerpiece in his final season. Brey referred to him as part of the Irish's "Big Three" along with guards Cormac Ryan and Dane Good- win. He's going to play, and play a lot. All three might even push for the most minutes played in the ACC. Notre Dame lost a combined 1,033 shots from the 2021-22 team when guard Blake Wesley (NBA Draft), for- ward Paul Atkinson Jr. (out of eligibil- ity) and guard Prentiss Hubb (declined COVID-19 bonus year) walked out the Rolfs Hall doors for the last time. They accounted for 52.3 percent of the Irish's total field goal attempts (1,973). Wes- ley's 441 led the team, with Atkinson (300) and Hubb (292) ranking third and fourth, respectively. Laszewski, meanwhile, was sixth with 212 field goal attempts and fourth with 9.3 points per game. That's despite shooting 51.4 percent overall and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers. The latter ranked 13th nationally among players with at least 100 attempts from beyond the arc. His 47 free throw attempts also ranked sixth among Irish players, and he took just 3 in Notre Dame's first 13 games. Now, he has ample opportunity for an increase in shots. "When Wesley, Atkinson and Hubb leave the building, there's more of a platform for him," Brey said. Someone has to step onto it, and a player with Laszewski's track record of efficiency is an ideal candidate for a shot bump. Brey seems to subscribe to the theory that if a player is shooting that high a percentage on 3-pointers, he's probably not shooting enough of them. It's based on the idea that such percentages are only sustainable in smaller samples, but they're indica- tive of scoring and shooting talent that should be maximized. Brey is OK with a slight drop if it means more shots and makes. "If you come back, you can take a bad shot every now and again," Brey said. Brey joked that Goodwin cashed in on that leeway when he made a simi- lar jump from complementary piece to All-ACC player last year. If two months of summer practices are any preview, Laszewski has taken the same approach. Take that mid-post fallaway jumper as an example. Laszewski took just 12 shots out of post-ups last year, per Synergy Sports. Post-ups and off-the- dribble scoring were hardly part of his offensive arsenal last season. Of his 212 overall shots, 184 came on spot-up jumpers, rolls to the basket, cuts, tran- sition run-outs or put-backs. He took one shot attempt in an isolation set. "He's going to go for it," Brey said. "I love that he's done that. There's no question through 12 practices, he's taken the most shots. And that's a good thing. Now, his percentages are off the charts. The first step for him was to hunt his stuff more." Laszewski credits two-plus months of the NBA pre-draft process for helping instill that mentality in him. He spent most days working out at IMPACT Bas- ketball in Las Vegas with other draft hopefuls, including Wesley. His trainer there was Joe Abunassar, a go-to for draft prospects. He tasted life as a pro — basketball all day, every day. He went through pre-draft workouts with a cou- ple NBA teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, in late May. Those leave a player with two choices: get kicked into gear or be humbled. Anyone who begins it hoping to simply get feedback or go through the motions is rudely awakened. Laszewski felt the urgency. "To compete every single day against those guys who are at a super high level — first-round picks, NBA guys — just being with them every day, you have to compete," Laszewski said. "That's a big aspect of my game that will help me mature." The pre-draft training was as much about development as it was showcas- ing his skills for teams. Laszewski feels it pushed him. Brey sensed the same. Both understand his place and his role on the team has to be different than a year ago. So far, Laszewski has not only seized the opportunity to be a focal point, but grasped what he means for Notre Dame's outlook. "If I'm aggressive, whether to take a shot or maybe even draw someone else and give someone else a shot," Lasze- wski said, "it's important for us." ✦ Mike Brey Issues A Challenge To Forward Nate Laszewski Laszewski is one of six graduate students on Notre Dame's 2022-23 roster. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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