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June 22, 2009His athleticism within his sinewy 6-foot-7, 215-pound body made Carleton Scott a fan favorite last season, particularly when the 2008-09 campaign began to head south.
Yet Scott still only managed to participate in 20 games for a total of 90 minutes.
His jump-shooting ability, mixed with his 6-foot-8, 232-pound frame, might have been able to help the Irish in 2008-09. But Tim Abromaitis' sophomore season of eligibility was preserved.
So now, Scott and Abromaitis enter their junior seasons with three years of eligibility each, which will help ease the transition following the graduation of Kyle McAlarney, Zach Hillesland, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller.
"Those guys are 20-years-old now. They're not freshmen," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "Both of them can make a shot, which is good for how we play. Carleton gives you the length, a long rangy guy, a body type that is different. He can block a few shots. He's gotten better with the basketball.
"Abromaitis is 238 pounds. People don't know how physical he is. Do we need him more inside banging? Do we need him to step out and shoot? That's something to be analyzed as we go in. It's his third year in the program now, and I think he's really ready to play. I think he's really ready to take off."
In McAlarney, Hillesland, Ayers and Zeller, the Irish lose 35.6 points and 13.8 rebounds per game from 2008-09, not to mention 107 minutes of playing time per contest. That makes Scott and Abromaitis prime candidates to pick up the slack.
Many Irish fans thought Scott should have been logging those minutes and putting up those statistics last season in place of Hillesland, who really struggled with his health and productivity over the last six weeks of the season.
"(The fans) want to see a highlight film, and (Scott) can do it," Brey smiled. "Could he have beaten out Zach Hillesland the last month? On paper, you could argue that. But it's hard to take Zach Hillesland out of there with the way he was running our group at the time."
The first order of business for Scott after having a year of eligibility preserved during his freshman campaign was getting his academics in order.
"There was an academic component," Brey said. "He started out slowly (academically). I had a talk with him last summer when he came back. I told him, 'You're our 14th man.' He was all upset. I said, 'By the end of summer, show me something different (academically).'
"Well, he got two A's and the rest is history. He got a 3.0 both semesters (of his sophomore year). The light is on."
Brey didn't want to "red-shirt" Scott and Abromaitis in the same season, and contrary to Scott, Abromaitis arrived at Notre Dame as an exceptional student. At issue with Abromaitis-after logging just 40 minutes of action in 12 games as a freshman-was breaking into the rotation as a sophomore.
"I told him, 'Look, I'm not going to force you to do it. But I'm telling you. I'm doing the math, and you're not going to get the minutes,'" said Brey of his conversation with Abromaitis last fall
"He came back the next day and said, 'Coach, I understand.' After that initial shock of 'I'm not going to play,' his attitude was fabulous. He was great with it. And there's an academic component. He's going to get a master's degree. So there was another carrot there in doing it. We have not had a kid more talented academically in our program that Tim Abromaitis."
After sitting out his freshman season, Scott had difficulty with his limited minutes in 2008-09. He converted 20-of-31 field-goal attempts (64.5 percent) while hitting 3-of-7 three-pointers and 7-of-9 from the line. But his playing time was limited. Brey insists Scott remained on board during the difficult times.
"He didn't play as much as he wanted and he was very frustrated," Brey said. "I know I wasn't telling him what he wanted to hear, but I told him, 'Hang in there. You have a great future.'
"He never thought about leaving. I know there was speculation, but he never thought about leaving."
Now Scott and Abromaitis will be counted on heavily. The return of Luke Harangody for a fourth season and the development of Tyrone Nash give the Irish two established bangers up front. Scott and Abromaitis are combination big men with an outside shooting touch.
"We've been interchangeable with our big guys," Brey said. "We've been able to invert our big guys with our little guys.
"Abromaitis is one of those guys who can be a wing, he can be a four man. He could (bang), but I don't know if we necessarily need him to do that all the time. He's a physical kid. He can rebound above the rim. He can score the ball. He can step out and shoot it. We've moved him back and forth from the perimeter to the post throughout practice last year.
"Two seasons ago, we led the nation in assists. This past year, we led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and least amount of turnovers. So we emphasize those areas, and our big guys need to handle the ball. Scott has become better with the ball. He's become a better basketball player, and you've got to love his athletic ability."
While acknowledging that incoming freshmen Jack Cooley, Mike Broghammer and Joey Brooks will push for playing time, Brey also knows the two years in the program will help Scott and Abromaitis make the transition into the regular playing rotation.
"It rotates to being their time, and in our program, we always have older guys," Brey said. "Those two guys are really hungry to play and I'm hungry to give them the opportunity. They've paid their dues in the program.
"Guys have to pay dues. We have guys who can talk to them and say, 'Hang in there. I've been there. Coach's track record is pretty good in this area.' It just happened with guys like Ayers and Hillesland. It happened with Rob Kurz.
"Now we've got three full years with them, and their time has arrived."