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February 17, 2013

Torres proves he belongs

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - Past AAU teammates met on Friday night when McDonald’s All-American Demetrius Jackson led Marian Catholic against Austin Torres at Penn High School. They’ll be future teammates too, the pair of Irish signees set to enroll at Notre Dame next summer.

And for a moment during Penn’s 60-56 win that clinched a share of a conference championship, it appeared Torres was ready to be current teammates with Jackson.

In the final scrambling seconds of the third quarter Torres altered two shots before Marian guard Devin Cannady tossed in a desperation bucket to pull the Knights within one point. As Marian players celebrated onto the court the scrum engulfed Torres, who got swept into the Knights huddle.

Trash talk followed.

Like just about everything else, Torres blocked it out.

“It’s nothing,” Torres smiled. “We’ve just got to move on from that.”

Overshadowed by his friend coming into the game, Torres showed a glimpse of what he could be at Notre Dame. He finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, went 6-of-6 from the free throw line and played all 32 minutes. He was credited with five blocks and two steals.

“I think Austin played a great game in the number of shots that he blocked and altered and bothered, everything he did,” said Penn coach Al Rhodes. “He was a factor on offense as well. I thought it was a tremendous effort. I thought his focus was as good as it’s been and maybe that showed at the free throw line.”

Torres didn’t see the game as a personal battle with Jackson, although they joked a day earlier about who’d have the most dunks, blocks, virtually everything on the stat sheet. Jackson finished with a game-high 26 points and matched Torres’ 12 rebounds.

Torres won the dunk contest 3-to-2. He also rejected Jackson on the game’s opening possession.

In recruiting hype this was a McDonald’s All-American against a two-star prospect once committed to Central Michigan. In reality, it showcased two players capable of helping the Irish program. Torres’ game may have a long way to go at the offensive end, but he’s pushed it that direction this season.

A month ago Torres went 1-for-7 from the foul line in a game. Now he shoots more than 200 free throws daily. Torres said in practice he’s made 34 straight.

Even if he’s not paying attention to the added attention coming his way since signing with Notre Dame last fall, Torres has been earning his own reputation beyond being Jackson’s AAU teammate.

“More people know who I am, but I’m not really worried about that,” Torres said. “I just have to play my own game and we have to play our own game. I think that’s one thing that sets us apart from other teams that have big recruits, we play as a team and not just one player.”

After the game Torres and Jackson hugged at midcourt, wishing each other luck in the upcoming sectionals and even looking ahead to rejoining forces at Notre Dame next summer.

“I was just really pumped for the game in general,” Torres said. “It was enjoyable. I’m not really worried about (head-to-head), it’s not me versus anybody, it’s our team versus somebody else. That’s how we both played tonight. We both played our roles.”

For Torres, that role was a winning one.

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