by Mike Coffey
While Mike Brey’s Notre Dame teams have enjoyed varying levels of success, one constant has been the level of effort his players give, both during and after their South Bend stints. Though not always announced on draft night, Brey’s charges have played their way into NBA contracts and starting positions as the result of indefatigable work ethic.
Last week, Rob Kurz joined the ranks of Irish “overachievers”. The last player cut by Golden State before the start of the season, the undrafted rookie was brought back on board when the injury bug hit the Warriors hard. Kurz made the most of his opportunity, and not only was given chances to start by coach Don Nelson, but also survived being cut when PG Monta Ellis came off injured reserve.
Kurz’s continued presence on the Warriors’ bus has another benefit for Irish fans: it balances Pat Garrity’s retirement before the season and keeps the number of former Notre Dame players in the NBA at four, where it’s been for the last five years.
In the halcyon days of Fighting Irish basketball, fans had no shortage of teams and players to root for in the NBA. After a trough in the 1960′s, the number of Notre Dame alums in the pro game grew steadily until cresting in 1990 at 10 players — Adrian Dantley, Bill Hanzlik, Tim Kempton, Bill Laimbeer, John Paxson, David Rivers, Donald Royal, Kelly Tripucka, Gary Voce, and Orlando Woolridge.
The Irish NBA population stayed strong until the mid-1990s, when (like so many other things associated with Notre Dame basketball) it fell off a cliff. While it never reached zero, for a while there, LaPhonso Ellis and Monty Williams were the standard-bearers, with Royal and Keith Tower helping out here and there until mainstays like Garrity and Troy Murphy came on board.
With Brey stabilizing and advancing the program, we can hope it’s only a matter of time before the Irish representation grows again. Luke Harangody stands to be Notre Dame’s first first-round draft pick since Ryan Humphrey, and Kyle McAlarney is a strong bet to go the Carroll/Quinn/Kurz route if he doesn’t hear his name that night. With players like Zach Hillesland, Tory Jackson, Ben Hansbrough, and Scott Martin in the queue, meeting or exceeding that 1990 high-water mark is not an unreasonable goal.