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T.J. Gibbs is in much better shape - and it shows - heading into his sophomore year with the Notre Dame men's basketball team. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

Slicing toward the basket off a dribble drive during a recent summer scrimmage, Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs looked a whole lot like he did late last year during his freshman season.

Except Gibbs was able to aggressively shed his defender. Except he was able to absorb a bump in the lane and stay on his drive. Except he was able to get good lift once he rose to release. Except he finished with a layup.

Still as confident as they come, there’s something dramatically different about Gibbs as he heads toward his sophomore season as a key guy. The first thought when you see him on the court? What the heck happened to the rest of him?

Gibbs returned in June for summer school 17 pounds lighter than the end of last season. He’s leaner. Seemingly longer. Quicker. And looks like he can run all day, whereas late last year, he was sucking air when required to go long stretches.

For two nights last month, Gibbs was arguably the best player on the floor during pickup games.

It’s a new and, time will tell, improved Gibbs. He was over 205 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame last year, but is down under 190. And he wants to lose a little more.

“I want to get back to being in the best shape that I can be in,” Gibbs said. “I wanted to get my speed back and being able to attack a little bit more off the bounce better and being more mobile.”

Midway through January, Gibbs was in the midst of a fine freshman season. He erupted for a career-high 13 points in an Atlantic Coast Conference win at Virginia Tech. Four nights later, he played a career-high 25 minutes with 12 points in a loss at Florida State.

His game then started to fade. Over the last 18 games, he scored double figures only once. He never scored more than four points in any of the last eight games. He had trouble getting past defenders on drives, then struggled to finish at the rim over length once he did. There were no bursts, no explosions at the basket, both critical in the ACC.

Gibbs and his game had worn down.

“I could definitely feel it and see it toward the end of the year,” he said. “That came with the wear and tear of freshman year.”

Once the season ended, Gibbs got in the weight room for some demanding sessions with strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski. When he returned home after finals, Gibbs had his mother make sure to cook only healthy foods. His father helped him stay on a consistent run/workout schedule.

The pounds started coming off, and stayed off when he returned to campus for six weeks of summer school. Eating healthier and eating less is in; hitting South Dining Hall sometimes four times a day to refuel is out.

“It got to the point where it was a little much for me and my body started to change,” Gibbs said. “By the time I realized what was happening, it was a little too late. But I’m glad to be back and in better shape.”

Gibbs enters the 2017-18 season penciled to start alongside veteran guard Matt Farrell in the backcourt. Both will have ball-handling duties. Gibbs will look to score a little more than he did last year (4.7 ppg.). He may log major minutes. And he’ll continue to defend, which was his calling-card last year.

His condition – and conditioning – will allow him to be even more aggressive. On both ends.

“He’s worked on himself and that’s awesome to see,” said guard Rex Pflueger. “I’m excited to get up and play defense with that guy, I’ll tell you that.

“We’ll get after some people.”

Adjustment period

The fourth practice of summer — one per week under NCAA rules — was about 45 minutes from starting, and the Irish practice facility in The Pit was empty except for one guy bouncing a ball at one of the baskets.

For Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey, it was a way to help clear what has been a cluttered mind during his first month as a college basketball player.

Life at this level, be it academics or athletics, comes at guys fast, and Harvey is still trying to adjust to the speed of everything. To class. To the court. Everything.

“The first three practices, my head was spinning,” Harvey said. “Now the fourth one, you kind of level off and get a feel for everything.

“Everything’s moving so fast right now that you can’t get overwhelmed.”

The biggest adjustment for Harvey has been understanding the physicality at this level. Even during summer practices, Harvey is guarded like it’s a regular-season conference game. Guys clutch. They grab. They bump.

In one game, Harvey got into it with Gibbs, who he felt was a bit too physical. Turns out he wasn’t. Harvey just had to understand that the game’s different up here.

“That was a definite welcome-to-college moment,” he said. “It’s part of the game with your teammates getting you better.”

The only freshman on this year’s team, Harvey offers the Irish myriad talents. He’s got size (6-5, 220) and skills (he averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a prep senior at DeMatha Catholic) and can shoot it from all three levels. He can get to the basket and get in a defensive stance.

Harvey’s role is one that likely will evolve as the season unfolds. It may take him some time to find his way, but once he does, he’s expected to be a main guy for many games.

His teammates can see it.

“With his confidence, he doesn’t play like a regular freshman,” Gibbs said. “He’s definitely someone who can come in and play right away and give us some big minutes.”

The Irish ended Thursday's hour-plus workout the same way they do during the season — with each player shooting a free throw. Make it and their team on the scoreboard gets a point. Miss it, and the other team gets one.

Harvey missed his, then was sent back to the line by coach Mike Brey after everyone had finished. Make it, and the Irish would finish on the right end of the scoreboard; miss it, and they'd lose the fictitious game.

Harvey stepped up and knocked the free throw down.

ND in the NBA

Former Notre Dame power forward Zach Auguste wrapped up his stay this week with the Miami Heat at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

Auguste played in three of the Heat’s five games. He made two starts and averaged 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. He had six steals, one assist and 16 fouls while shooting 58.8 percent from the floor and 20 percent from the foul line. His best game was an 11-point, 12-rebound, four-steal performance in 26 minutes Tuesday during a double-overtime loss to Detroit.

Auguste was coached by former Irish point guard Chris Quinn, a Heat assistant. Miami went 0-5 in Orlando.

Auguste, who played last year in Turkey, is one of several former Irish on NBA rosters for the MGM Resorts International Las Vegas Summer League, which features 24 teams and 67 games. It started Friday and runs through July 17. Auguste is again with the Heat.

Also in Vegas are V.J. Beachem (Minnesota), Pat Connaughton (Portland) and Jack Cooley (Sacramento). Former Irish and Marian High School guard Demetrius Jackson appeared in one game (six points, one rebound, three assists) for the Boston Celtics in the Utah Jazz Summer League this week, then skipped the next two.

Jackson is listed on the Celtics roster for Las Vegas, but his status remains questionable. According to Boston media reports, Jackson is one of several current Celtics that may need to be traded/released to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign free agent small forward Gordon Hayward.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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