Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 12, 2022 49 MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL M arcus Hammond arrived at Notre Dame knowing he be- longed, but unsure how he would fit. Hammond, a graduate transfer guard who scored 1,422 points in four seasons at Niagara, wanted to take the competi- tion leap in his final season because he felt was good enough. What he didn't expect was needing to shoehorn his way into an already tight core of fellow fifth- year seniors coming off two wins in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame brought back guard Dane Goodwin, guard Cormac Ryan and for- ward Nate Laszewski, who head coach Mike Brey dubs the "Big Three." Guard Trey Wertz returned as a rotation player. As if that wasn't enough, freshman guard and former f ive - s ta r re c r u i t JJ Starling is set to take one-and-done guard Blake Wes- ley's place. It didn't l e a ve H a m m o n d with a clear role, or at least not one he was used to playing. "The first week, it felt like, 'Wow, this is Notre Dame basketball,'" Hammond said. "It was more trying to fit in with the team, trying not to step on anybody's toes. They don't need me, they did this last year, they went to the tournament. "I just wanted to come in here, help where I can help and be a good fit. I was trying to play it careful." Teammates and coaches, though, no- ticed how he minded every step he took, and sometimes took them with trepida- tion. That wasn't the Marcus Hammond they heard about or saw breaking down defenses on film. Be yourself, they told him. Notre Dame brought him here for a reason. The result has been a rise to not just a clear rotation player, but an important offensive piece. In Notre Dame's first preseason practice — which was open to reporters — Hammond initiated of- fense and played on the ball as much as anyone else. He looked confident. He looked like an ACC guard, not a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) transfer. He started Notre Dame's 67-52 exhibition win over Xavier (La.) Nov. 2 and played a team-high 32 minutes. "You could argue Hammond has been our best guard," Brey said in late October. Hammond didn't make the strong impression only because he was a walk- ing bucket in practice like he was in the MAAC. The scoring flashes have been impressive, yes, and it remains his greatest asset. But part of fitting in was becoming a cog in the machine rather than the focal point. Hammond took 29.8 percent of Niag- ara's shots when he was on the floor, per KenPom, which ranked 94th nationally. He was the Purple Eagles' go-to guy and averaged 7.3 more points per game than their second-leading scorer. He averaged 18.1 points per game last season, more than all but one other MAAC player. He even hung 25 points on Xavier of the Big East and 22 on Ohio State of the Big Ten. Notre Dame coveted that scoring, of course. But it has other scorers and other creators. Like Starling, who is arguably Notre Dame's most explosive off-the- dribble option. Like Goodwin, a third- team All-ACC selection who averaged 13.6 points per game last year. Sometimes, he can help just by getting out of their way or setting up to catch a pass from them. "He was always a scorer at Niagara," Brey said. "He learned, 'If I get my feet set, they will find me.' Those five old guys know how to play." Hammond picked his spots well in the exhibition game. He took 6 of his 10 shots from 3-point range and made 3 of them. He found it works the other way, too, with Notre Dame's crop of shooters when he makes an extra pass or drives and kicks. He had 2 assists, both on 3-pointers. He even grabbed 7 rebounds. Brey has given him the free- dom he usually af- fords to his veteran guards. "We have a lot of guys who know how to play basketball the right way," Ham- mond said. "Nobody is going to take crazy shots or shots that are unwarranted. We know when to reel it in and know when to be aggressive. When Coach is like that, that's when the most success comes, when he lets us play with a lot of freedom and we don't have to look over our shoulder." Before Hammond could drive into ACC defenses and tussle for rebounds, though, he had to ready himself for the physical toll it would take. Hammond arrived at 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds. A summer full of workouts with strength coach Tony Rolinski and multiple Gatorade protein shakes per day from the nutrition bar in- side Rolfs Hall put him at 188 by the start of the preseason, with a peak of 190. "I really feel like he took my game to an- other level, just making me fast, twitchy, a little more explosive," Hammond said. That's part of why he looks the part of an ACC player, at least in fall practice. And practice made clear he's no longer watching his step. ✦ Hammond scored 1,422 points in four seasons at Niagara before transferring to Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Newcomer To Watch Graduate transfer guard Marcus Hammond looks to be a key figure in Notre Dame's backcourt

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