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Men’s Basketball: Atkins ready to take over reins from Jackson at point guard

Douglas Famer | Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A picture of Tory Jackson celebrating and smiling still hangs in the Joyce Center Auditorium, but, make no mistake, the four-year starter at point guard will no longer serve as Notre Dame’s floor general.

Instead, Irish coach Mike Brey heads into this season not knowing who will serve as his primary ball-handler in the season-opener on Nov. 12, or if he will even have the luxury of a primary ball-handler.

“You lost the winningest class in school history, so certainly you’ve got challenges there,” Brey said during a press conference Monday. “I don’t know if there’s one guy that will replace [Jackson]. I think we have to replace that, and certainly [graduated forward] Luke Harangody’s production — that has to be a group effort. But the ball handling and the leadership stuff is a concern.”

Fortunately for Brey, while Jackson, Harangody — Notre Dame’s second all-time scorer — and guard Jonathan Peoples graduated, he now has the luxury of a five-member senior class, and that doesn’t even count walk-on senior guard Tom Kopko.

“You’ve got five guys who are in their fourth or fifth years of college basketball,” he said. “We have a nucleus of guys back that have had some success together. We have five guys who are technically seniors who have been around a little bit, and so it’s a great group to try to build with and grow with.”

Among those five seniors, four are listed at 6-foot-8: guard Scott Martin and forwards Tyrone Nash, Carleton Scott and Tim Abromaitis. Guard Ben Hansbrough, at 6-foot-2, rounds out the class. Brey said this group of “old guys” will lead to match-up problems for Notre Dame’s opponents all season long.

“If you look at the old guys, we have a bunch of them who are all the same size,” he said. “My theme is a lot of interchangeable parts. … I would hope that we have some interchangeable parts, because that’s tricky to defend and hard to scout.”

Joining the five seniors on the court, in some variety, will most frequently be sophomore forward Jack Cooley, sophomore forward Mike Broghammer and freshman guard Eric Atkins.

Atkins played point guard in high school, and thus is the only player on Notre Dame’s roster to have experience exclusively at that position. But Brey hesitated to say Atkins would serve as the team’s primary ball-handler from day one.

“[Atkins] certainly needs to be a big part of things, because he’s the one true guy who has played that position,” Brey said. “With the five old guys, any young guy playing with them has a little cushion. … We have a group that handles the ball pretty well and takes the pressure off just one guy being the ball-handler.”

Yet, Brey’s track-record hints at Atkins taking on the load early in the season. Twice in Brey’s 10 seasons at Notre Dame he has handed the reigns over to a freshman: Chris Thomas in 2001 and Jackson in 2006. Both Thomas and Jackson then brought the ball up the court for the Irish for the next four years. Atkins said he anticipates such a role in his future.

“I do approach it like [I’ll be the primary ball handler],” Atkins said. “That is what coach is telling me right now. I just have to be ready for it when I step into the game.”

Atkins will get his first chance to take the court on Nov. 1 against Marian University in an exhibition game. Notre Dame’s first regular season game is on Nov. 12 against Georgia Southern.