2 NOTRE DAME
When most coaches talk about having good depth, what they really mean is that they've got one or two reserves who can dribble without falling down. As for the eighth and ninth men, like the fire extinguishers kept behind glass in public buildings, they are there to be used only in case of emergency.
This is not true at Notre Dame, however, where Coach Digger Phelps shuttles players in and out so often that it's always rush hour at the scorer's table. While the youthful Irish built a 23-8 record last season, they used 11 different starting lineups, and 10 players averaged at least 10 minutes per game.
As a result, Notre Dame has so many good, experienced men returning that Phelps recruited only one freshman, even though the Irish lost their top scorers and co-MVPs, Dave Batton and Duck Williams. The newcomer is Guard Mike Mitchell, Northern California's Player of the Year.
"With our kind of schedule, a team has to have depth and it has to use it," Phelps says. "This keeps the kids happy by giving them a chance to play, and it helps us win by wearing opponents down. Our kids are convinced that by playing the way we do, our turn will come sometime during the game, even if we fall way behind. No matter what the score is, we stick to the concept to keep everyone fresh for the final push."
To make this strategy work, Phelps needs 10 talented players who are all willing to subordinate themselves to his system. Only two of the Irish played more than 30 minutes a game last year. The result was a revolving-door team that outscored, outshot and outrebounded opponents by wide margins without any single player amassing impressive statistics.
Most coaches would be happy to have five players of Notre Dame's quality, never mind a whole roster of them. Guards Mitchell and Bill Hanzlik, forwards Tracy Jackson and Gilbert Salinas and Center Bill Laimbeer form an imposing lineup—one that at Notre Dame doesn't even start. The first five is made up of guards Stan Wilcox and Rich Branning, forwards Kelly Tripucka and Orlando Woolridge and Center Bruce Flowers.
But then, at Notre Dame starting doesn't mean that much. "Ours is a team of specialists," says Woolridge, and he's right. Depending on the opponent, the Irish will go mostly with a power lineup, a running lineup, a pressing lineup or a shooting lineup.
If anyone stands out on this team of equals, it is Tripucka. Although sixth in playing time as a freshman last season, he was third in scoring and rebounding, and led Notre Dame in field-goal shooting (57%). Complementing his ability is a have-no-fear attitude that comes from having grown up in a family of outstanding athletes. His father Frank was an All-America quarterback for the Irish; brothers Todd and Tracy started in basketball at Lafayette; T.K. played hoops at Fordham; and Mark quarterbacked the Massachusetts football team. From his childhood, Kelly remembers some rough backyard beatings that left him crying, but he says, "I'm not the type of player to get nervous before a big game. I want a piece of the action. When I leave here, I'm going to have one of those championship rings." He might get it this spring.