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13 March 2012

Wilson! Notre Dame feels NCAA ball in its court

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- At the mere mention of the Wilson-brand basketballs to be used at the NCAA tournament this weekend, Notre Dame forward Scott Martin let out a deep, profound sigh of satisfaction.

"Underrated," Martin said before practice Tuesday. "I think it's huge. It's the ball you play with all summer and the ball we use for every game here. I think it's the best ball that there is out there. Maybe it isn't that big a deal, but I think psychologically, at least for us, we love that we can use it."

No. 7 seed Notre Dame has had some significant offensive issues over its past five games, and not coincidentally in the Irish's minds, those struggles have come while using basketballs that are not their preferred brand.

Now it's the NCAA tournament and a return to the Wilson balls used at Purcell Pavilion and, therefore, year-round. In unison Tuesday, one day before departure for Greensboro, N.C., and a South Region game with 10th-seeded Xavier, players hailed that as a bounce going their way.

"I used to think it doesn't matter, but now I think it makes a big difference," center Jack Cooley said. "Just to have a ball you're familiar with -- basketball only needs a ball, a hoop and a court, so the ball is one of the three main things. It's a pretty big deal for us.

"The Wilson ball, I think it's the best because it doesn't get wet and slippery. The other balls actually get really wet and slippery really easily, and they're hard to hold on to. Other balls, it takes a little longer to get used to. A lot of them have a different feel a different bounce."

Added point guard Eric Atkins: "It has a little bit of a softer touch. I think it's more of a shooter's ball, but I guess any one of my teammates here would say that. We're just more used to it. Our last four games, we've been playing with a Nike (ball), so to get back to the Wilson ball is good for us."

Only one player put a damper on the notion, recalling what occurred in the second round of the tournament last year in Chicago, when the Irish offense imploded in a loss to Florida State.

"Last year, we used the Wilson and couldn't make a shot against Florida State," guard Alex Dragicevich said. "Essentially, it shouldn't matter. But there's a comfort, I guess."

It shouldn't matter, Irish coach Mike Brey conceded before practice. But it does matter to his players. So it matters, if that makes any sense.

"That they (think it's a big deal), it is," Brey said. "We love playing with this Wilson, we've played with it here, we shoot it well here. There's a psychological advantage to that, no question, because they guys believe that."

But does Brey think it's truly an advantage?

"No," the Irish coach said. "But I even said in the locker room Sunday, after we met, I said: 'And we're going to be with those Wilson balls.' Just to remind them."

Click here to view article on tribune.com

By Brian Hamilton
Tribune reporter

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