SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — As long as John Mooney keeps putting up double-doubles and his teammates stay healthy, coach Mike Brey feels pretty good about Notre Dame's chances this season.
"Johnny carries a lot of clout in our league when you hear the other coaches," Brey said as he prepares for his 20th season at Notre Dame. "We take him for granted - he just rolls out of bed and goes 15 (points) and 12 (rebounds) like it's nothing."
The 6-foot-9 senior Mooney averaged team highs of 14.1 points and 11.2 rebounds last season for the Fighting Irish, who lost 63 games to injuries and illnesses during a 14-19 campaign that included just three wins and a last-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"They had their back sides handed to them . we're older, we're healthier, we're better," Brey said.
The return to health of guards Robby Carmody, Rex Pflueger, Nikola Djogo and forward Juwan Durham, the maturation of sophomores Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski and Chris Doherty, and senior T.J. Gibbs making amends for his junior slump have created excitement for the season opener Nov. 6 at North Carolina.
"The guys are playing at a higher level, sharing the basketball and feeding off each other," Mooney said. "Coming off last year, no one's giving us a shot. So we have to play with a chip on our shoulder to get the job done and prove these people wrong."
Hubb, who started 29 games at point guard, thinks Mooney's leadership is just fine, even if his coach would like more confidence from his standout.
"He's a role model for everyone on this team," said Hubb, who averaged 8.1 points and nearly four assists last season.
RALLYING AROUND REX
Things went south quickly for the Irish after Pflueger, averaging 8.1 points and 4.7 rebounds at the time, tore left knee ligaments last December. The injury came at the same time his mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died early in September and the team attended her memorial service in California.
"Some of the stuff they've gone through with Rex and his mother's situation — that's kind of done some things to our team's dynamic," Brey said.
"It speaks highly of our coaching staff and players," said Pflueger, now a grad student working on his MBA who is not being rushed to be ready for the opener. "It's an act of kindness you don't see often."
In addition to Pflueger missing the final 23 games following knee surgery, Carmody missed his final 24 and Djogo his final six with torn labrums that were surgically repaired. The 6-foot-11 Durham, who missed six games with leg issues, averaged 2.3 blocks when healthy in 27 games.
Brey likes what he sees in the 6-foot-3 Hubb at the point. "He moves more confidently and is more vocal," Brey said. "He and T.J. (Gibbs) have been pretty good."
BEAT THE CLOCK
Instead of the usual 30-second shot clock, Brey used a 20-second version during the preseason.
"That way we have to play quick and you can't think too much. You've got to make a decision," he said.
Besides North Carolina, the Irish host Boston College on Dec. 7 in the pre-holiday portion of the 20-game ACC schedule. Notre Dame also has non-conference games with Maryland, UCLA and Indiana before starting the final 18 games of league play at Syracuse Jan. 4.
Brey said he and Orange coach Jim Boeheim talked about the league's big three — North Carolina, Duke and defending champion Virginia — on the summer scouting trail.
"He said, 'You know, we're all playing for fourth,'" chuckled Brey, whose team is picked seventh. "He never minces words, obviously."
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