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Early start may benefit Irish

Andrew Soukup | Friday, September 5, 2003

September. Basketball. The two don’t exactly go together.

But Thursday, one-by-one, members of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team shuffled into the locker room at the Joyce Center. They emerged a half-hour later, dressed in practice uniforms, and headed to The Pit for practice.

“It feels a little different,” senior Torrian Jones said. “It’s a lot earlier than we’ve practiced so far, but it’s fun and exciting.”

Normally, teams can’t begin practice until Oct. 18. But NCAA regulations allow teams to play a foreign tour as part of their exhibition slate once every four years. On years when teams do take trips, the NCAA allows a squad to 10 practices to prepare for the trip.

That’s why Notre Dame, which has two exhibition contests scheduled in Barbados over fall break, is starting practice before the football season even kicks off.

Just how early are the Irish starting? The game floor in the Joyce Center Arena hadn’t yet been laid down Thursday.

“We’re going to get an upper hand on a lot of teams who won’t be able to work together and mesh together this year,” Jones said.

In addition to Thursday’s practice, the Irish will practice Saturday morning and Sept. 20. That last practice in September, held the Saturday of the Michigan State game, is open to the public. Notre Dame won’t practice again until Oct. 7, and then the team will work out seven times in 11 days.

The early practices will give the Irish a chance to see how freshmen guards Colin Falls and Russell Carter fit into the Irish system. The third Irish freshman, forward Omari Israel, may sit out the 2003-04 campaign while he recovers from knee surgery.

Plus, the Barbados trip will give Irish coach Mike Brey the opportunity to test new lineups and help younger players gain experience. Traditionally, Brey has given freshmen plenty of playing time in the early exhibition games to acclimate them to college basketball.

“The nice part about doing the foreign tour during the school year is that the incoming freshmen are here, so we can take them on the foreign tour,” Brey said earlier this year. “If it was during the summer, then [the freshmen] would not be able to attend it.”

Starting practice early will also give the Irish a chance to plug holes vacated by graduates Matt Carroll and Dan Miller. Notre Dame returns four players who started at least 10 games last year – guard Chris Thomas and forwards Torin Francis, Jordan Cornette and Tom Timmermans – as well as Jones, who was Notre Dame’s sparkplug off the bench.

But the ranks of Notre Dame’s upperclassmen are thin. Although Brey named all four juniors and seniors playing this fall – Jones, Timmermans, Thomas and Cornette – captains, Jones knows how vital the early start on the season will be in the search for key contributers.

“We have a lot of young guys, guys playing new and extended roles,” Jones said. “This will help guys get adjusted to their new positions and their roles on the team.

“I think it’s gonna help guys get adjusted and come together better for when the real games start in September.”