Notre Dame senior Austin Torres embraces unique basketball rotation role
Time often runs short and it isn’t long before he’s back on the bench watching and waiting for his next basketball burst.
Others on the roster will score more points, grab more rebounds, deliver more assists and play more minutes. They’ll get much of the praise in wins and answer what went wrong in losses. He might go a game or two or a week or two without making much of an impact, yet he still brings it every day in practice, in the locker room, on the team bus, anytime the No. 23 Notre Dame men’s basketball team is together.
It’s a role that suits Penn High School product Austin Torres to perfection. What does coach Mike Brey want? What does the team need? He’ll do it. All. Anytime. Anywhere. Nothing else matters but being in the moment.
“It’s not anything that I’ve ever worried about,” the Granger native said after he made a difference in Wednesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference home opener against No. 9 Louisville with six points, two blocks, a steal and a rebound in four minutes. “One of the things that Coach Brey emphasizes is, on to the next play, whether it’s good or bad. Get another stop on defense, get another shot.
“We’ve got to have a short memory and moving on to the next play is something I’ve had to do throughout my career.”
What the 6-foot-7, 241-pound Torres also has had to do is embrace his place in the Irish basketball puzzle. He’s like a situational reliever in baseball, a penalty-kill ace in hockey, a third-down specialist in football.
Do more with fewer chances. But do it.
The last week was a prime example. During Notre Dame’s overtime victory at Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve in the conference opener, Torres played a grand total of 60 seconds. He was on the bench before he ever broke a sweat. But that was OK. The Irish won, and there was another game to be ready for in four days.
Torres was ready.
Brey summoned Torres into action less than eight minutes after Wednesday’s tip. Three seconds later, he secured a steal near midcourt off a Louisville inbound pass to kick-start a break. Six seconds after that, he followed a T.J. Gibbs missed layup with a put-back to put the Irish up 10 and shake a sleepy Purcell Pavilion to life.
Being able to step into the moment and embrace the moment, no matter how big the stage, is something Torres often has done at Notre Dame. See the Michigan State and Purdue games from two years ago. Or the Colorado contest earlier this year when he tied his career high with six rebounds in a season-high 18 minutes.
It doesn’t take much to get him going. Like that, his motor is at full throttle.
“When we have a crowd, that’s something that I’ve always fed off of,” he said. “When the lights are bright, I’m not afraid of the moment.”
Less than two minutes after his early work Wednesday, Torres was out of the game for the rest of the first half. He played 120 seconds in the second, but was a big reason for the win.
Torres logged double-figure minutes in five of the first eight Irish games. He’s played a total of 30 in the last seven. He averages 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.9 minutes. Only Elijah Burns (5.6) and John Mooney (5.1) average fewer minutes.
It takes a unique individual to do what Torres does – maximize effort with minimal minutes.
“That’s really hard to do,” Brey said. “He embraces it and his stuff (Wednesday) was such a key. Energy. Scoring. Flying around.
“He knows it’s going to be a short burst, but man, he’s a key for us.”
Fellow Irish power forward Bonzie Colson sees what the public sees during games every afternoon in practice. The two often are matched against one another in scrimmage situations and drills. Colson knows that he better be ready to go. Torres will be waiting. And ready.
“Man, he guards me in practice as hard as I don’t know what,” Colson said. “He’s one of the strongest guys on the team. He attacks me.”
Torres always is there on game day. He’s the one talking in the locker room before the Irish take the floor. He’s the one talking in layup lines. On the bench. In huddles. During games, his voice often is the first heard when Colson grabs a rebound, when Steve Vasturia makes a shot, when Matt Farrell makes a free throw or when Martinas Geben takes a charge.
He’s not a team captain in name, but his voice is among the most respected. Torres may not always be in the game physically, but mentally, he’s always in the game.
“He is such a team guy,” Brey said.
“He does everything for us,” Colson said. “His role is definitely something we need.”
And may need again Saturday as Notre Dame (13-2; 2-0 ACC) hosts Clemson (11-3; 1-1). Torres might come in to cool down Jaron Blossomgame, or bang with Donte Grantham. He may not be needed at all. But he’ll stay ready. For one minute or six. If Brey calls, Torres will answer. He’s ready, anytime, anywhere.
“That’s something that our team has,” Torres said, “and that’s why we’re something special.”
WHO: No. 23 Notre Dame (13-2; 2-0 ACC) vs. Clemson (11-3; 1-1)
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).
WHEN: Saturday at 3 p.m.
INTERNET: ACC Network Extra at WatchESPN.com.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.
NOTING: Jaron Blossomgame scored 24 points with seven rebounds and Avry Holmes added 20 points in an 89-86 overtime loss Tuesday at home to No. 14 North Carolina. The Tigers had a chance to win it with the game tied and five seconds remaining in regulation, only to have Holmes miss the front end of a one-and-one free throw. Clemson was outrebounded 51-32 and allowed Carolina 23 offensive rebounds. … The Tigers opened ACC play with a win at Wake Forest after erasing a 13-point deficit. … Clemson was picked in preseason to finish 11th in the league. … The Tigers return three starters off last year’s team that finished 17-14 overall, 10-8 in the ACC and tied for seventh. … A first team all-league preseason pick, Blossomgame returned for his senior season after declaring last spring for the NBA draft. … Clemson has five college transfers and one junior college transfer on its roster. … The Tigers went 10-2 in non-conference play, their best record since 2009-10. They beat the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska and South Carolina with losses to No. 16 Xavier and Oklahoma. … Clemson ranks ninth in the league in scoring (78.3), sixth in defense (66.1), 15th in rebounding margin (-0.6), 14th in assists (13.6) and first in turnover margin (+5.07). … Coach Brad Brownell, a 1991 graduate of DePauw, is in his seventh season. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 4-0 with all four games as conference colleagues. … The Irish look to start 3-0 in league play for the second time in three seasons. … Saturday is career game No. 700 for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. … This is the last Irish home game until Jan. 21 when they host Syracuse.
QUOTING: “He gives us confidence and he does it day in and day out in practice. We need him to do that.”
• Notre Dame junior Bonzie Colson on senior Austin Torres.