Noie: Good idea to keep an eye on Irish super senior guard Marcus Hammond
SOUTH BEND − Every so often in the Rolfs Hall lobby, Notre Dame super senior guard Marcus Hammond will stop, stand as still as a statue and just stare.
Along the left wall inside the main entry of the basketball facility sits a television screen surrounded by Irish action photos. On the quieted TV runs a continuous loop of highlights from the previous Irish men’s season. Hammond might be headed in after another day of graduate classes, or leaving after practice when a particular set of highlights grabs his attention.
They’re from last year’s NCAA tournament run. The last-second victory over Rutgers in double overtime at the First Four. The dismissing of Alabama in the first round in San Diego. The near-miss in the second round against Texas Tech, which would’ve produced the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2016.
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Hammond sees those clips come up and he has to stop. Dream. He's heard Irish teammates tell tales of that whirlwind week, how they won that first game, then another, then nearly a third, all while riding the emotional wave that is March Madness.
“I sit there and watch like, ‘Wow,’” Hammond said. “I’ll stop for a few seconds and say, ‘Damn. That looks nice. I want to be there.’”
Hammond has done a lot in his college basketball career, the previous four of which were spent as the lead guard at Niagara University. He’s played in 113 career games. He's scored 1,422 career points. He averaged 31.0 minutes the last three seasons and logged 3,289 to date in his career. He earned All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Association honors each of the last three years, including a first team selection last season.
He's become a really good college guard out of Queens, New York, which is known to produce a high-level guard or two. He’s won games. He's lost games.
What Hammond hasn’t done is play in an NCAA tournament. That's why he explored a bonus fifth year thanks to COVID-19. That’s why he’s at Notre Dame as a key transfer. He’s here to play and help the Irish win and get back to the NCAA tournament a second straight season, something the program hasn’t done since 2016-17.
“It would mean a lot to me; it would mean everything,” Hammond said. “That’s really my main focus. Guys talk about it. They want it even more. I really, really want to experience that.”
Hammond wound up at Notre Dame almost by accident.
Notre Dame was pretty set in the backcourt as the 2021-22 season wound down. When it looked like freshman Blake Wesley would become the first player in program history to be a one-and-done (where he became a first-round NBA draft pick) and there was a chance that super senior guard Trey Wertz might not want to return for his final year, the Irish needed a veteran to bolster the guard depth.
Hammond visited and committed within five days in late April. He wasn’t one of those under-the-radar transfer guys. He wasn’t even on the radar. But he just might turn out to be one of the best of the bunch.
How good is the new guy?
If Hammond were stock, buy some. Fast. Pick up the phone and call your broker. Gobble it up with the belief that it’s going to take off like a rocket. It’s blue-chip level stuff.
Hammond is that good. There were times in preseason when he wasn’t only the best guard on the floor for a Notre Dame team that has plenty of them, he was the best player on the floor.
He plays with the pace and the poise of a New York City guard. Never in a hurry. Always sure of what he wants to do. Going at his own speed and getting to where he wants to go. Kind of like handling New York City traffic. He just weaves his way through to a clearing.
Like former Irish guard Prentiss Hubb, Hammond is left-handed. Unlike Hubb, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound Hammond can get into the lane and create something for someone or finish with equal effectiveness. That’s something we didn’t always have from Hubb.
“He gives you another gear,” said Irish coach Mike Brey.
That was evident in Wednesday’s exhibition opener against NAIA Xavier (La.) University. Hammond was in the starting lineup and opened the game as the team’s main handler/initiator of the offense. He logged a game-high 32 minutes and scored nine points with seven rebounds and two assists in a 67-52 victory.
Brey was most impressed with Hammond’s seven rebounds. He grabbed 11 in one game and averaged 4.7 a game last season at Niagara.
“Gotta get in there, man,” Hammond said.
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Afterward, Hammond shrugged off the bigness of his new stage. Being in the in-game spotlight for the first time affected freshmen Ven-Allen Lubin and J.J. Starling. For Hammond, it was same old, same old — have a game, play his game. No big deal. He was an old guy playing the way and reacting in a way of an old guy.
“That,” Hammond said, “was fun.”
It’s part of being old, sure, but it’s also about playing with other old guys. They get it, and get one another.
“My teammates are great,” Hammond said. “They’re always telling me to be confident. Even the coaches (are like) ‘Be confident and play how you know how to play.’”
This may be a bonus basketball year for Hammond, but he won’t take a day of it for granted. Much like former Irish power forward Paul Atkinson, who played one season at Notre Dame after transferring from Yale, Hammond feels basketball blessed to have all the resources offered in the Irish program — the practice facility, the weight room, the nutrition station, the performance center, the locker room/lounge area. All of it.
That wasn’t his basketball life at Niagara. There were times when Hammond would want to work on his game after a tough one, get some shots up, get a sweat going, only the Gallagher Center court was occupied by a volleyball match or women’s basketball game. His work would have to wait. Now, he can get into Rolfs at any hour and get in work.
“Anytime I think our guys are spoiled, I’m going to have Marcus tell them what they did at Niagara,” Brey said. “He’s really taken advantage of the laboratory that (Rolfs) is.”
Last year, Hammond had to do most of it — score it, drive it, facilitate it — for Niagara to have a chance. Now, he’s got veteran players — better players — around him so he can just be one of the key pieces. He mentioned to Brey after one preseason workout that every time he pressures the defense with a drive, then kicks to a teammate, it’s like an automatic assist. Just mark it down in the book —assist, Hammond.
Guys know how to get open. They know how to get him open. They know how to make shots. They know how to play. It makes everything that Hammond wants to do easy.
“It’s just a great chemistry,” he said. “Them knowing how to play the game, them seeing the game the way I do, experience is a big factor.”
Irish fans will get to experience Hammond for the first time when the regular season begins Thursday at home against Radford. Hammond could again be in the starting lineup. He might come off the bench. He’s going to play a lot. Do a lot.
You’re going to like what you see. From the Irish. From Hammond. Just watch.
“I’ve been there; I’ve seen a lot,” Hammond said. “I’m just ready for it all.”
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.