Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 26, 2022 49 MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL P art of head coach Mike Brey's pitch to get forward Nate Lasze- wski to come back for a graduate season was simply reminding him of who left. Notre Dame's 2021-22 team often went where guard Blake Wesley, for- ward Paul Atkinson Jr. and Prentiss Hubb collectively took it. They were the Irish's top three players in usage rate, a KenPom stat that measures how often a player ends a possession with a make, miss or turnover. They accounted for 52 percent of the team's shot attempts. It left Laszewski to operate largely in residual action that came from attention given to them. He was a catch-and-shoot big and a roller frequently on the receiv- ing end of a Wesley or Hubb pass. Situ- ations for him to create on his own were infrequent, because that trio and guard Dane Goodwin used so many of them. W h e n H u b b , Wesley and Atkin- son packed up to pursue pro careers, t h e y to o k 1 ,0 3 3 shots with them. Brey saw a chance to turn a collective loss into an individual gain when con- vincing Laszewski not to exit with them. "What you had to explain to him as he was thinking through it was Paul At- kinson, Blake Wesley and Prentiss Hubb are gone, and that's good for you," Brey said. "You played great with them. You loved it. The stage has been cleared for you to be the star." Three games into the season, he looks like one. Laszewski billed himself — with Brey's urging — as a more aggressive, confident scorer upon returning from the NBA pre-draft process June 1 and a spring of workouts at the IMPACT bas- ketball training facility in Las Vegas. He looked the part behind closed doors during summer practices, when Brey said he took more shots than any- one else in five-on-five. Notre Dame's start to the season is further proof. Laszewski — firmly installed as the starter at the 5 spot — is averaging a team-high 20.0 points and 10.7 re- bounds through three games. He is aver- aging 9.9 field goal attempts per outing, up from 6.2 last season. He also leads the Irish with 23 free throw attempts, nearly half his season total from last year (47). He has gobbled up the available shots like Thanksgiving dinner. No, Notre Dame has not faced particu- larly challenging competition so far, but dominating in games against Radford, Youngstown State and Southern Indi- ana is the first step toward becoming an All-ACC-caliber player and being a focal point of an NCAA Tournament team. Laszewski was a role player in these games last year. This season, the Irish might have taken an embarrassing loss without him. He earned his first ACC Player of the Week award Nov. 14 af- ter combining for 42 points and 22 re- bounds in the Irish's first two games. "It's affirmation of some of the hard work," Laszewski said. Three possessions into Notre Dame's opener vs. Radford, he provided evidence of it. On the opening one, he put his head down and drove from the key, splitting two defenders to draw a foul. Two posses- sions later, he head-faked and drove for a layup with his left hand. He ended the opener with 28 points and 15 free throw attempts. The former tied a career high. He did not attempt his 15th free throw of last season until Notre Dame's 16th game. Left-handed layups weren't part of the arsenal before. Neither were rip- throughs into left-hand dribbles that leave a slower forward behind and end with him at the basket. Neither was a left-handed dunk off a baseline drive un- til an 88-81 win over Youngstown State Nov. 13. His off-the-dribble game has expanded beyond a jab step or a shot fake. "I surprised myself a little bit that it was a lefty one," Laszewski said. "I think it was my first career left-handed dunk." Laszewski approaches film sessions looking for areas he can exploit in de- fenses, and not merely situations that m i g h t l eave h i m o p e n w h e n a t - tention is given to someone else. He wa n ts to d i c ta te game flow instead of adapting to how a teammate or the opponent establishes it. "[Associate head coach Anthony Sol- omon] talks to me a lot about what he calls 'Easys,'" Laszewski said. "Try to get some layups, free throws, get myself going. Definitely try to be aggressive and settle into the flow early on." Notre Dame has leaned on him late in games, though. Laszewski had 10 points in the final five minutes of the Radford game, a 79-77 escape in which the Irish trailed by nine in the second half. His baskets were among the most pivotal in dodging disaster. A three-pointer with 3:59 left cut Rad- ford's lead to 1. A jump-hook where he backed down a smaller guard also trimmed the deficit to a point with 1:28 left. Those late-game spots were often Wesley's, Hubb's or Atkinson's time to make a play last year. They appear to be Laszewski's right now. "I love all those guys, but they needed to go for Nate to be the guy," Brey said. "I love that he has grabbed it." ✦ Laszewski averaged a team-high 20.0 points in Notre Dame's first three games. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER GO-TO GUY Forward Nate Laszewski is embracing being the team centerpiece

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