SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -The Irish are going to Ireland for a head start to their season.
Basketball season, that is.
Notre Dame left Tuesday for a 13-day trip that will include six games before the football team plays its first. The Irish started practicing Aug. 4, four days before the football team and two months ahead of the traditional October start of basketball practice.
``We're so far ahead right now,'' said Luke Harangody, a second-team All-America last season who led the Irish with 20.4 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. ``We feel like we're in season now.''
Naturally, Notre Dame was the first NCAA choice for the inaugural Emerald Hoops Program developed by the Basketball Federation of Ireland, which is trying to build the sport there.
The Irish, coming off a 25-8 season that featured the third-most wins in school history, will play the national teams of Ireland, Poland and Iceland and participate in clinics around the country.
They also plan to use the trip as something of a clinic for themselves, working on their offensive efficiency by playing against the international 24-second shot clock and trying to improve a defense that was mediocre last season.
``It gives us a chance to play some different lineups, play some different guys, evaluate some things and experiment with some things,'' coach Mike Brey said.
Eleven of the 13 players making the trip have never been overseas before, so Notre Dame wants to have some fun, too. Guard Tory Jackson is looking forward to putting together a video documentary of the trip.
``It's going to be a lot of joke playing,'' he said.
Kyle McAlarney, who averaged 15.2 points a game as a first-team All-Big East selection along with Harangody, believes the trip will help the team to bond. He's also excited about visiting the home of his ancestors.
``My dad's got some distant family over there. I'm going to see if I can look them up,'' he said. ``For me it is pretty special to go back and see the motherland.''

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