Kelly Tripucka's self-assessment said it best.

"Some people think I'm nuts," he said, "but I just don't hold anything back, on or off the court. Things are more fun that way."

That Tripucka doesn't hold anything back and is having so much fun is also a major reason why Notre Dame is one of the final four teams in the running for the NCAA basketball championship.

The Irish will play Duke in one of tomorrow's semifinal games in St. Louis. Kentucky will play Arkansas in the other. The final is Monday night. The games will be televised nationally by NBC (WRC-TV 4).

Last September, Tripucka was merely another freshman basketball player with a list of impressive high-school credentials. He had averaged 36 points and 20 rebounds and was an All-America in Essex Falls, N.J. He also was All-State in soccer and track.

Tripucka was a big name in sports, however, even before Kelly took his first jump shot. His father, Frank, was a standout quarterback at Notre Dame. Brothers Tracy and Todd played basketball at Lafayette. Tracy was an All-America and Todd was seventh in the nation in scoring a few years ago." Another rebrother, Mark played football at Massachusetts.

Of them all, Kelly Tripucka is probably the best athlete.

Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps is not big on freshmen playing varsity sports because he doesn't feel they are emotionally or socially ready.

"But Tripucka is 18, going on 19, socially," Phelps said. "He is rare."

"In terms of athletic contribution and the affects of his personality, no freshman has come in here and left the impression Kelly has." said Bob Best, the assistant sports infromation director. "The team reacts to him."

"We've needed a leader here badly," Best added "We'd get a different one from game to game, but there hasn't been one guy we could turn to and who would take charge when we needed it, until now. And that person is Kelly."

Tripucka, a 6-foot-7, 210-pounder, began the season a reserve. The Irish front line consisted of 6-11 Bill Laimbeer, 6-8 Bruce Flowers and 6-10 Dave Batton. It was one of the biggest and strongest in the country. It also was slow. But when he needed a lift, Phelps would turn to Tripucka and the confident freshman usually delivered what the coach wanted.

"My role was to be the sixth man, to come off the bench and be aggressive," Tripucka said. "I loved it."

Then, midway through the season, Laimbeer injured his ankle and wrist, and Tripucka was made a starter.

Laimber healed in a week, but there was no displacing Tripucka. The predictable, slow Irish had turned into a whirling, exciting, versatile team that won 10 of its last 12 games and breezed to victory in its first three NCAA tournament games.

Tripucka scored 14 points in a 33-point victory over Houston in the first round. I the Midwest regional semifinal against Utah, he cscored 20 and against DePaul, in the final, he had 18 points, 11 rebounds and was the emotional force that continually revved the Irish. He was the regional tournament's most valuable player.

What sets Tripucka apart from most freshmen is his personality as much as his basketball ability. He is outgoing, bubbly and extremely self-confident.

He is often compared to former Notre Dame star Adrian Dantley in his style of play and on the effect he has had on the Notre Dame basketball program. But just as he and Dantley may be similar in styles, they are opposites in personality.

When he was at Notre Dame, Dantley was shy and reserved.

On the court, however, the two are very similar. Dantley is a better outside shooter and Tripucka isn't as physical as Dantley - he doesn't get the garbage points that Dantley did - but both make things happen.