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October 19, 2009On many an early afternoon last winter, you could hear the familiar thump, thump, thump of a basketball bouncing on the Joyce Center floor.
If it wasn't Kyle McAlarney-gym rat extraordinaire and long-range sniper for the Irish-it was Ben Hansbrough.
But while McAlarney was fine-tuning his game in his final season with the Irish, Hansbrough was longing for his chance to participate again.
McAlarney was in the process of finishing a brilliant career with the Irish; Hansbrough was in the midst of a transfer season, sitting out until the 2009-10 campaign.
McAlarney-who knew a little bit about sitting out a season-could relate to Hansbrough's pain. But now McAlarney is gone and Hansbrough is eligible, which means it's time for him to step up and fill the void.
"It's been a while, but I've been ready for it," said Hansbrough, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Poplar Bluff, Mo., product via Mississippi State, where he averaged 10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as a sophomore in 2007-08.
"I feel great. I've been out there training my body real hard. I'm ready to go."
Hansbrough, who started 28 games for the Bulldogs two seasons ago, fills the void left by McAlarney, who made himself into one of the great three-point shooters in NCAA basketball history. Hansbrough admits he's not as good of a shooter as McAlarney. But he also believes he brings other things to the floor that can help get the Irish to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four seasons.
"Kyle McAlarney is the best shooter I've ever seen in my life," Hansbrough said. "I'm not going to be able to shoot the ball as good as he does. He has his strengths; I have my strengths.
"I'm a tough player. I can make some shots. Do a little bit of everything."
Irish head coach Mike Brey, now in his 10th season with the Irish, is counting on it.
"There are some similarities (to McAlarney) because (Hansbrough) can shoot the ball," Brey said. "McAlarney shot it at a clip that was kind of off the chart. Ben is pretty close, and if you asked SEC coaches, Ben's percentage-when it was a big shot-was really high. That was his reputation at Mississippi State for two years. He made all the big shots for them.
"He's taller and he's got some driving ability to get to the basket, which I think can help us because we couldn't always get to the bucket at times from the perimeter last year. He can get fouled and he rebounds well for a guard. So I think he can help us in that department as well."
Hansbrough started 28 games and averaged 10.5 points per game as a sophomore for the Bulldogs. He also averaged 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while hitting 62 three-pointers (at a 35.8 percent shooting clip). He converted 78.9 percent of his free throws.
In two seasons Hansbrough shot 38 percent from the three-point line, including a McAlarney-like 44 percent as a freshman (47-of-114).
"I just feel once it gets tight, it's time to step up and hit a big shot," said Hansbrough of his clutch reputation. "That's how my mentality always has been."
Strong personality traits and high energy run through the bloodlines of the Hansbrough family. His father, Gene, was a high jumper at Missouri while his brother Tyler was one of the most decorated college basketball players ever at North Carolina, where he won national player of the year honors and led the Tar Heels to a national championship before his selection in the first round (13th overall) by the Indiana Pacers.
"People ask about a comparison with his brother," Brey said. "He's got the same ticker. He's coming at you. Like a (Tory) Jackson and a (Luke) Harangody, there's a great competitive streak there. So you feel if you have three guys cut from that cloth, that's a pretty good start."
Asked what the name Hansbrough brings to mind, the younger brother of Tyler said, "It brings a lot of wild, childhood fights to the table. My oldest brother, Greg, he's about to turn 26. I'm just getting to the point now where I can beat him up. So I'm catching up to him.
"Me and Ty played in the same gyms together and played in high school. It's fun (being a Hansbrough). I'm proud of my brother and what he's done. It's weird thinking that he's going to be a professional player."
Likewise, it seems like a long time ago that Hansbrough was a Mississippi State Bulldog.
"(Mississippi State) just wasn't the right fit for me," Hansbrough said. "As soon as I came to Notre Dame, I didn't visit any other schools and made a commitment a couple of days later.
"I loved Mississippi State and the guys on the team. But I had an idea of what kind of team I wanted to play for. As soon as I got here, I knew. The one stat-we've led the country the last three years in assists-that just tells you it's a bunch of unselfish guys playing for this team."
Without McAlarney and the injured Scott Martin, the Irish will need Hansbrough to be a bit "selfish" on occasion and let it fly.
"I'll do whatever it takes to help lead the team the best way possible," Hansbrough said.
Sounds like a family trait.
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