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August 26, 2008

Notre Dame ends successful trip to Ireland

MORE FROM ZELLER
The Notre Dame basketball team recently completed a two-week, six-game exhibition tour of Ireland, and senior center Luke Zeller documented the trip for Rivals.com.

The Fighting Irish return four starters from a team that went 24-8 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and they are ranked in the Rivals.com preseason top 10.

The Irish finished 6-0 on the trip after Saturday's 90-65 victory over the Icelandic National Team. The team went to a Gaelic football game Sunday, then traveled back to South Bend, Ind., on Sunday and Monday.

Here is Zeller's 11th and final entry:

By Luke Zeller
Notre Dame senior

I really enjoyed it in Ireland. They have colors of green that I didn't know were possible. They definitely did not exist in my humble 64 pack of Crayola crayons or even in the much ritzier pack of 128.

The country was absolutely beautiful. Driving through the roads with farmland on both sides was awesome to see. There were rolling mountains of grass and animals on each side of the road while driving along. There were the farmers in the fields, whether it was early in the morning or during the heat of the day.

The people were very friendly. The accents vary from a little bit of an accent to nearly impossible to understand. They say the accents differ depending on the area that you are in, but I wasn't able to figure it out for sure. The hospitality and reception by the people of Ireland was unbelievable. I hope that an Irish person coming over to America could receive the same kind of welcome.

The Gaelic football game (the All-Ireland Senior Football semifinals) was awesome. We discussed this a lot during the game, but if you were wanting to create the greatest game ever for your backyard, Gaelic football would be it. It's like soccer, football and rugby put together. None of them wear pads. It's such a fast-paced game, and it's a lot of fun to watch.

At one point, there were two guys choking each other. Remember that picture of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson choking each other? It was like that, only the referee just watched and laughed. He just called whose ball it was and walked away. They don't even stop for stuff like that.

The two teams were Cork and Kerry, and apparently Cork was a huge underdog. Kerry has won the last two years. The game wasn't even sold out. We were told it was because Kerry fans didn't figure they needed to come until the finals. Cork was down six points but tied the game late. It's kind of like the goals are soccer goals but there are field-goal posts, too. It's one point if a ball goes through the uprights, three points for in the goal.

So it ended in a tie, 16-16. And they don't have overtime, so they actually replay the game next Saturday. They actually replay the whole game. Can you believe that? That's crazy, but that's how they do it. The game before it, the under-21 teams, also tied. So I guess there are two games next weekend.

It seems like everybody has a huge banner or flag, and they're waving like crazy all of the time, like you're in a battle or something. Whenever a team scores, it's all flags and banners.

The players are tough. In warmpus, I swear they were hitting each other as hard as they could shoulder to shoulder. And they're not wearing any pads. Somebody told us one of Kerry's best players, this guy was like 6-5, 240-250, is supposed to be really good in basketball but just plays Gaelic football. That's the game here.

I just got back in town like probably an hour ago. We left the hotel at 7 a.m. Dublin time (Monday); the flight left at 10:30. It was an eight-hour flight (to Chicago). Another two-hour bus ride from O'Hare to here (South Bend). When I got back, I realized I really hadn't had a good meal since 6 a.m. I was starving, so my roommate and I went to Friday's.

What did you take away from the trip?

I think the coolest thing is every time I go overseas I realize how amazing America is. I take it for granted how lucky we are and privileged we are to be American. You realize there are soldiers fighting and keeping the peace all over the world. That means so much to me. One of Kyle's (teammate Kyle McAlarney) best friends got a chance to spend some time with us. He has been serving in Afghanistan. Kyle wears his dog tags a lot. When Mike was with us, it made us realize those guys are out there doing so much that we take for granted. We're very privileged. I have the utmost respect for those guys.

As far as basketball, this trip gives us a lot of confidence. It helps us to be able to evaluate where we are this early and see what we can get better. We were tested in games against good teams. Normally, you play against yourself for so long and you're playing the same people every day who already know all of your stuff anyway. This way, you find out more who you are individually and as a team.

I've been around long enough to know the preseason doesn't mean that much. Obviously you'd rather be ranked in the top 10 at the end of the season than the beginning. If you have respect at the beginning you have to live up to, you have to earn it. We have to realize we have to earn it in every practice, every workout, every game. That's how we got to where we're at.

I wish we could start playing games tomorrow, but I guess I'll settle for cheering on the Notre Dame football team until we can put the jerseys back on and step onto the court.

Final words?

I want to thank all of you that were following with me on this trip. I hope that you felt you were a part of the trip because I most definitely felt like you were with me. Thanks for the numerous messages through the Internet, phone and, in the case of fans at the game, in person, telling me you were reading the diary every day and how much you enjoyed it. When you play basketball at a high level, sometimes you can get lost in the mix of things. At times it can become like a job because you go from one game to the next and one workout to the next. It is refreshing to step back to see how blessed I really am to have the opportunity to go from one game to the next and to have great fans with me. That's what makes me get up every day with a smile on my face, ready to get to have fun playing basketball for another day.



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