Mike Brey pushing Notre Dame forward Nate Laszewski to be more aggressive
SOUTH BEND — If Nate Laszewski returned for one more season with Notre Dame men’s basketball, head coach Mike Brey wanted him to be aggressive.
So much so that Brey joked with the 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward about shots that don’t deserve to be made.
“I was like, ‘If you come back, you can take a bad shot every now and then,’” Brey said. “‘(Dane) Goodwin sure does, so why don’t you?’”
After testing the NBA Draft waters, training in Las Vegas and working out for NBA teams, Laszewski opted at the June 1 deadline to stick with the Irish for another season. He followed through on Brey’s directive to be aggressive during Notre Dame’s 12 summer session practices, which ended Tuesday.
Brey said Laszewski, who finished last season with the sixth-most field goal attempts (212) for the Irish despite ranking second in field goal shooting percentage (51.4) and 3-point shooting percentage (45.6), launched more shots in the 12 practices than any of his teammates.
“He’s so coachable,” Brey said. “He’s leaning back. He’s firing. He’s so good.”
The Irish lost three of their four highest shot takers from last season in guard Blake Wesley (441), forward Paul Atkinson Jr. (300), and guard Prentiss Hubb (292). Goodwin, who is also returning for a graduate senior season, finished last season with 351 shots. That’s why Brey has encouraged Laszewski to mimic the aggressiveness of the guard.
That should be a natural transition for Laszewski after trying to prove himself in front of professional scouts earlier this year. But Laszewski likely wouldn’t have been an NBA Draft pick. He spent time working out alongside Wesley before deciding to return to Notre Dame.
“For a couple months, it was really good work,” Laszewski said. “Not just only for the process, but for the development of my game. When it came down to it, I had a couple workouts with teams. After talking with coach Brey, my family and everything, having gone through that process, the ultimate decision was to come back to school.”
During that process, Laszewski was required to compete at a high level on a daily basis. Brey has demanded he do the same. Laszewski, coming off a senior year averaging 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, should be a focal point of a successful Irish season.
“Being aggressive and staying aggressive,” Laszewski said of his mindset. “Not going through the motions at all out there ever. Even if I’m aggressive, whether to take a shot or maybe even draw someone else and give someone else a shot, it’s important for us.”
Laszewski is in the middle of what Brey coined as Notre Dame’s Big Three alongside guards Cormac Ryan and Goodwin. The trio has experience and the ability to carry an offense at times. Laszewski, who took 125 of his 212 shots last season from behind the 3-point arc, will likely need to have more of a presence inside the paint without Atkinson.
“Definitely being able to get inside, use my body, pump fakes and get to the free-throw line will definitely be something that’s key,” Laszewski said.
Laszewski made 85.1% of his free throws last season, but he attempted fewer (47) than any of the five other Irish players who averaged at least 27 minutes per game. The Gill (Mass.) Northfield Mount Hermon product can find his way to the charity stripe more often if he’s expands the versatility in his game.
“I’ve really been working on my ballhandling, being able to create some shots in the mid-post and off the dribble as well,” Laszewski said. “I’m trying to drive it and help get to the free-throw line — stuff like that to get me going.”
Laszewski has already impressed freshman guard JJ Starling, who’s making a case to enter the starting lineup by living up to his five-star prospect reputation. Because Laszewski chose to return for the 2022-23 season, the two will have the chance to see how their playing styles mesh together.
“He can do anything,” Starling said of Laszewski. “He’s so aggressive. He can shoot for you. He can set screens. He can roll.
“Having a big like that is so good, because he’s so versatile. You can have him do anything. He'll go rebound for you. Having an aggressive big like that who can stretch the floor, that’s really a game changer.”
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