Noie: Notre Dame PF Nate Laszewski quietly having consistent hoops season
Somewhere along this uncertain college basketball road that we now know leads to Indianapolis, it’s OK to occasionally bend an unwritten rule for an exception.
Last week was the occasion with Notre Dame power forward Nate Laszewski the exception.
Every Monday morning during the season, an email arrives from the Atlantic Coast Conference. In it is a list of a handful of players nominated by their respective schools for league player of the week consideration. Some guys might have scored a lot of points, or grabbed a lot of rebounds or did a little of everything to ensure their team’s success. League media are asked to vote (the Tribune has for the last three seasons) for the player they believe most deserves the honor.
Voting is subjective, yet for this writer, it often starts by dropping any player whose team lost the previous week to the bottom of the consideration list. The rationale? It’s difficult to earn top league honors if your team lost a game, or even never won one. Numbers gathered during those games are empty calories. They don’t mean much. Want to be the best? Better earn it with stats. And wins.
But when Monday arrived, there only was one name to consider for league player of the week — Laszewski’s. It didn’t much matter that Notre Dame (3-6 overall; 0-3 ACC) lost by nine points at home to Virginia and by one at North Carolina in a game that was thrown together in about 30 minutes thanks to coronavirus issues with other league schools.
Where would the Irish have been in both those league games without Laszewski? He was beyond good.
Against Virginia, he scored a career high 28 points on 8-of-11 from the field with four 3-pointers. He was 8-of-10 from the foul line and grabbed six rebounds. Three days later in Chapel Hill, Laszewski returned with a team-high 25 points. He took 14 shots. He made nine. He took 11 shots from 3. He made seven. He grabbed nine rebounds against that monster Carolina front line.
Notre Dame didn’t win, but Laszewski’s effort was player of the week worthy. Nobody in the league scored more points in that stretch than the junior from Jupiter, Fla. He led all major conference players in 3-pointers made. He was fourth in the country in total points and 13th in field goal percentage. That’s why the unwritten rule of voting top league honors for guys whose teams won games went out the window. At least for a week.
Notre Dame might not have been good, but who was better than Laszewski? The league honor went to Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado, but Laszewski’s work still caught others’ attention around the league.
“Nate Laszewski is having an all-ACC type of year,” said Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner.
Make that, an ACC player of the year type of year. Heading into this weekend, Laszewski ranked fourth in the league in scoring (17.2), fifth in rebounding (8.2), first in field goal percentage (.658) and 3-point field goal percentage (.590), third in 3-pointers made (2.56), second in defensive rebounds (6.89) and 11th in minutes (33.9). The numbers across the board are career bests.
Laszewski leads Notre Dame in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. He’s never shot below 50 percent from the field in any of the first nine games this year. From 3, he’s connected on at least 57 percent of shots in six of those nine. He’s been consistent from the start, something none of his teammates can say.
“It’s kind of blowing my mind, what he’s doing,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Right now, he really believes. He’s a shoo-in at this point for the most improved player in the ACC.”
That we’re 625 words into this column about Laszewski and the 6-foot-10, 227-pounder hasn’t been quoted is no coincidence. Two years ago, he arrived from Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in Gill, Mass., with the reputation of being a really good shooter and a really reluctant talker. Two years later, he’s still a really good shooter and a really reluctant talker. He’d rather play than preach. Making shots has come easily for him this year. Offering analysis in post-game Zoom conference hasn’t. That’s OK. He’ll continue to let his game do his talking. It’s speaking loudly, both in what he’s done and how he’s done it.
There were times his first two seasons where it seemed like he’d never make a shot. Now it seems like he’ll never miss. Every time Laszewski rises and fires, you feel the ball’s going in. Around the bucket. In the mid-range. Even when he pulled up from seriously deep last weekend in Chapel Hill, the ball went in, albeit a bank shot from out front.
How? Why? Laszewski is like the running back who offers thanks to his offensive line after another 1,000-yard season. He’s like the ace pitcher who praises the guys doing defensive work behind him. When it’s supposed to be all about him, nothing ever is.
It’s about guards Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan learning how to best work with him on screen and roll action. It’s about guys finding him in the right spot at the right time. It’s about Brey giving him the ultimate green light. Making shots? For Laszewski, that’s easy.
“Just being confident,” Laszewski said. “That’s kind of what Coach Brey preaches to me — step up and shoot it and make it.”
Laszewski has stepped up. He’s shot it. He’s made it. A lot of that has to do with the maturation of a player from his freshman to his sophomore to his junior season. Guy gets older, he gets more confident in his skills, more comfortable in his surroundings. Laszewski’s done that.
It would be nice for his teammates to follow that lead. Laszewski’s headed for a big individual season, but the Irish can’t let it go to waste the way they did the previous two years for John Mooney. Had Notre Dame had more success — it never finished above .500 in league play —- Mooney might’ve hauled home an ACC player of the year trophy. Maybe All-American recognition. Laszewski is traveling that same road of putting up big numbers for teams that don’t succeed.
That has to change. Sunday at No. 19 Virginia Tech would be a good start. Notre Dame is one of three league teams (Boston College, Miami) with losing overall records. The Irish remain winless in the league, but Laszewski insists they don’t carry themselves like they’re 0-3.
“We can’t hang our heads,” he said. “We always have another chance.”
So make the most of it. Like Laszewski.
WHO: Notre Dame (3-6 overall; 0-3 ACC) vs. No. 19 Virginia Tech (8-2; 2-1)
WHERE: Cassell Coliseum (9,275), Blacksburg, Va.
WHEN: Sunday at 6 p.m.
TV: ACC Network.
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: Guard Jalen Cone scored a career high 23 points on six 3-pointers off the bench and Delaware transfer Justyn Mutts added 10 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday’s 73-71 loss at Louisville. The Hokies led 11-0, then trailed by as many as 14. They shot 16-for-20 (80 percent) from 3 and 42.6 percent overall. The Hokies finished with 30 bench points. … Virginia Tech’s three league games have been decided by a total of 10 points. … Forward Keve Aluma leads the Hokies in scoring (15.5 ppg.) and rebounding (6.5). Cone is the team’s second leading scorer (12.0) despite not having started a game. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 9-4, including 4-1 at Cassell Coliseum and 6-3 as ACC colleagues. … Virginia Tech returned three starters off last year’s team that finished 16-16, 7-13 and tied for 10th in the Big East. ... The Hokies were picked this preseason to finish 11th in the league. Notre Dame was picked 12th. ... Virginia Tech is one of six repeat league opponents. The teams meet in South Bend on Jan. 27. ... They last played in March in South Bend, a 64-56 Irish victory. It was the last Irish regular-season win to date in the ACC. … Notre Dame looks to avoid starting 0-4 in league play for the first time in school history. … The Irish have lost 25 consecutive games to ranked teams and are 0-4 this season. ... Notre Dame last won a road game against a ranked team on Jan. 16, 2016 when it beat Duke. ... The Hokies have been ranked as high as No. 15 in the Associated Press poll. ... Fan attendance at Cassell Coliseum is capped at 250 per game. … This is Notre Dame’s first visit to Cassell Coliseum since an 81-66 loss on New Year’s Day 2019. … This starts a stretch of two in a row and four of five on the road for Notre Dame. ... The Irish are 0-1 on the road in ACC play, 1-2 overall with the win at Kentucky on Dec. 12. … Virginia Tech has had two games affected by coronavirus; Notre Dame has had six, including Wednesday’s scheduled home game against Georgia Tech. … The Irish have been idle since a Jan. 2 loss at North Carolina.
QUOTING: “Buckle up for safety. Get rest when you can. Nothing is easy.”
—Virginia Tech coach Mike Young on playing in the ACC.