His all-business face in place, Notre Dame senior captain Ben Hansbrough focuses solely on the routine that awaits, oblivious to everything and everyone around him.
Hansbrough glides to the corner of the court, pounds the ball to the floor and connects on jumper after jumper. The echo of his hands clapping fast and furiously drowns out a soft John Mayer song tumbling over the arena speakers.
He moves to a ladder lying across the baseline, hops through each rung before darting in to complete a reverse layup from each side of the rim.
Free throws are next. Hansbrough swishes a few shots before more layups, this time maneuvering around blue plastic folding chairs on each side of the lane masquerading as defenders. A few dribbles behind his back and between his legs bring mid-range jumpers.
More perimeter shots in groups of four or five follow from behind the 3-point line. Several look true, but jump out. Turning his back to the basket, Hansbrough mutters a few words likely unfit for print before continuing.
When he’s done – stopping is something he has learned to do with age and experience – Hansbrough grabs a bottle of blue Gatorade and heads for the locker room where an energy bar awaits.
Tip-off against Rutgers is 75 minutes away. Hansbrough, who leads the Irish in scoring (17.2), assists (4.0) and minutes (34.8), scored a game-high 25 points in 39 minutes Sunday to lead the No. 8 Irish (19-4 overall; 8-3 Big East) to a fifth-consecutive conference win.
After taking Monday off to let his body heal from the bumps and bruises that accumulate over a long season, Hansbrough was back in the gym around 8 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday with student-manager/training partner Pat Holmes, Jr., in preparation for another critical conference contest against No. 16 Louisville on Wednesday night.
Some days, the routine that he first adopted as a junior in high school back home in Poplar Bluff, Mo., runs until Hansbrough is satisfied that he’s hit enough shots and spent enough sweat. Other days, it’s over soon after it starts.
"Sometimes it’s more about quality than quantity," Hansbrough said. "As far as conditioning goes, what it mostly comes down to is mental. If you can push yourself mentally through fatigue, that’s good conditioning.
"My competitive spirit is my driving factor."
It’s a spirit that Irish coach Mike Brey has not seen since his days as an assistant coach at Duke. As he has watched Hansbrough approach each day for the last two-plus seasons after the guard’s transfer from Mississippi State, Brey is reminded of a guy whose constant motor helped drive the Blue Devils to consecutive NCAA championships — Christian Laettner.
"The talent, the psyche, the drive, the ruffling of feathers of teammates sometimes, the dragging of teammates along come hell or high water," Brey said. "There’s a lot of flashbacks to Laettner."
"That’s a great compliment," Hansbrough said.
Seemingly always wanting more in the gym, no matter the time of year or hour of the day, Hansbrough learned last summer to ease off on the throttle. Time spent with his brother, Tyler, in North Carolina and around other NBA players allowed Hansbrough to accept that he can have big workout days, but there are other days when he has to listen to his body.
"You don’t want to be drained completely," he said. "You have to be there 100 percent mentally and physically."
Adjusting that mind-set helped Hansbrough push through the most trying, and ultimately rewarding, two-game stretch to date this season, late last month. Having scored a career-high 28 minutes in a grueling 39 minutes during the 80-75 victory over Marquette on Jan. 22, Hansbrough admitted afterward that he was "dead" tired.
Less than 48 hours later and seemingly fabric-softener fresh, Hansbrough hit for 19 points in another 39 minutes during the upset of Pittsburgh.
"I," he said, "don’t get tired a lot."
Now in his 11th season in South Bend, Brey has coached his share of Irish "gym rats." Matt Carroll, Rob Kurz, Kyle McAlarney and Chris Quinn come to mind. But no Irish player has been as driven, as maniacal about his workouts, as Hansbrough.
"He does his thing and he really doesn’t want us coaching him through his routine," Brey said. "He does his thing and we stay out of it."
One of the few on the inside is Holmes, who has learned how to best read Hansbrough’s moods to push him – more left-handed layups here, 10 straight free throws there – to be even better. Often, it’s Holmes calling Hansbrough to check on the next day’s workout.
"He’ll be there before me a lot of times," Hansbrough said. "I appreciate that. Pat’s been great."
Everyone else knows to steer clear when they hear music blaring from the bottom of The Pit, the team’s basement practice facility. When Holmes is pushing and prodding and helping Hansbrough through his drills, teammates simply head for the other end of the court.
"The guy just has a will and a passion that is unsurpassed by anyone I’ve ever seen," said sophomore Joey Brooks, who counts Hansbrough among his closest friends. "He gets tired, but when he gets tired, that’s when he really pushes it.
"You can’t help but pick up on that. It’s contagious."Staff writer Tom Noie: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6153