SOUTH BEND | So which was more improbable: his career, or the way it might now end?
Last Wednesday night, Luke Harangody's senior night -- his last regular-season home game inside the double-domed Joyce Center that has become his place of basketball business -- finally came. Currently the second-leading scorer in 105 years of Notre Dame basketball, there was a time when Harangody, a proud Andrean alumnus, couldn't imagine felling records and passing names simply by, seemingly, pulling on a jersey.
But with just weeks left in his final season in South Bend, it all might have been taken away. A severe bone bruise, suffered against Seton Hall, hasn't let Harangody play since Feb. 11. Once on course to become both Notre Dame's and the Big East's most prolific offensive player, Harangody has been relegated to cheering his team's pursuit of an NCAA tournament bid -- the primary reason for his return for a senior season, he's said -- in street clothes.
"I never pictured it like this," Harangody told The Times on Monday, sitting in the stands near the Purcell Pavilion court. "To say the least, it's been a rough couple weeks with a lot of ups and downs."
One of ND's all-time greats
It's probably fair for Harangody to wonder why it's come down to these last weeks -- he almost certainly can't be alone.
Whenever his time in a Notre Dame uniform is finally done, Harangody will be either No. 1 or No. 2 on the school's list of all-time scorers. He will be in the Big East's top three. He will be either No. 1 or No. 2 in career rebounding at Notre Dame as well. He will be one of seven Notre Dame players to cross the 2,000-point threshold.
He is already the only player in school history to tally 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds over a career. Coming into action on senior night against UConn, he had compiled an astounding 2,425 points and 1,198 rebounds. And before the Pitt game on Feb. 24, Harangody became the inaugural member of the newly minted Notre Dame Ring of Honor and had his No. 44 jersey hung from the rafters inside Purcell Pavilion. Others will join him eventually, but for now, Harangody stands alone.
"I'm very very proud that he's the first guy in there," coach Mike Brey said that night. "That's what a basketball place has, and we certainly have a lot of (worthy) guys, and again, I think it's awesome that he's the leadoff batter into that thing."
So now, in what should be Harangody's great encore, how deflating must it feel to have to watch from the sideline?
"You just have to kind of forget about that stuff and realize that I've had a healthy career over my four years here," Harangody said. "There's something bound to happen sometime, so you just have to kind of deal with that, just try to get healthy and come back."
Who knows where Notre Dame will be once he does, if he does? Since Harangody left the lineup, the Irish have recorded double-digit wins over Pitt at home and Georgetown on the road, suddenly thrusting themselves back into NCAA tournament discussions. The defense has improved, and, after an adjustment period, the offense has found its legs again without the Big East's leading scorer.
That good run of late-season form has played the Irish back onto the bubble, and it's also made the watching a little bit easier for a certain Schererville native whose absent 24.1 points and 10 rebounds per game, the world assumed, spelled a final goodbye to anything more than an NIT appearance this season.
"It's been easier, to kind of dull the pain a little bit, watching them have the success," Harangody said, "especially some of the guys who wouldn't have had an opportunity if I wasn't to go out."
At least publicly, Harangody has never even hinted at looking for sympathy.
He's leaned on his mother and father, Dave and Peg Harangody, for support.
"When things like this happen, and no one's really around, they're always there," he said. "They've been great about that."
Carr believes in Harangody
A college basketball career is a finite resource -- they all must one day end.
Harangody extended his as long as he could, coming back for one more dance after testing the NBA draft waters last summer. But even the career of a player so skilled at scoring that Brey often describes him as "machine-like," must end, injury or not.
But when time is finally called on his career, Harangody will enter into a fraternity of sorts, of those who came before. Notre Dame athletes in many sports talk often of the strong alumni network the program enjoys, and basketball is no different. That will never end, says the only man who's ever scored more points in a Notre Dame uniform than Harangody.
"He'll keep his contacts, that's one thing for sure," said Austin Carr, now a broadcast personality with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Carr scored 2,560 points in three years at Notre Dame, a milestone he never thought would stand. And it might not have, had Harangody not gotten hurt.
Soon enough, Harangody's attention will turn again to the NBA, this time for good. Carr said Harangody's work ethic will make him a strong NBA prospect when the time comes.
"It's like a marathon race," Carr said, "and if you can last the longest, you will have success."
As for that question of improbability -- Harangody himself has said before that he never thought his career would unfold as it has -- perhaps the answer is simply the last obstacle he must hurdle.
"I'm going to think about the times I've had with my team, and just look at, kind of, be able to reflect back on my individual success as well," he said.
"And going through this time right now, I think I need to remember some of those things, too, to kind of get me through what I'm going through right now."