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Men’s Basketball: Team to open with Quincy

Mike Monaco | Monday, October 29, 2012

Two hundred and twenty-seven days later, the road to redemption finally begins.

The No. 22 Irish, who in March were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, kick off the new season Monday with an exhibition game against Quincy.

Irish coach Mike Brey said his veterans have used last season’s early exit from the tournament as extra motivation and are focused and ready.

“A veteran team that’s very hungry comes back focused, comes back with a chip on their shoulder because they wanted to play deeper in the NCAA tournament,” Brey said. “I have great captains. My leadership is good. They’ve set the tone and I’ve really liked our practices. We’re focused. We’re concentrating.”

Brey said he is looking forward to squaring off with the Hawks, who play in Division II in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, after roughly a dozen practices.

“It’s just good to play against somebody else,” Brey said. “When you have a veteran team banging against each other for two weeks, it gets old really quick.”

Brey said he would use the exhibition game to begin to establish roles and determine playing time.

“I think you need to now sit on the same bench and they all need to see what the pecking order is and I need to figure out the minutes and the roles in the game for 40 minutes,” Brey said. “So I think to play against somebody else that will give us another step in evaluating our team early in the year.”

The Irish return 89 percent of their scoring and 93 percent of their rebounding from last year’s squad that went 22-12 overall and 13-5 in the Big East. Senior forward Jack Cooley, graduate student forward Scott Martin, sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton and junior guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins will again start for Notre Dame. Senior center Garrick Sherman, who sat out last season after transferring from Michigan State, will be the sixth man, though Brey said he is essentially a “sixth starter.”

Brey will give the majority of the minutes to those six players Monday.

“I want to really get a feel of playing our key guys,” Brey said. “You’ve heard me talk about six starters, those guys have to get a lot of minutes playing together. I want to really evaluate that.”

Of those top six players, Brey said he is primarily concerned with getting Sherman, who appeared in 70 games in two seasons with the Spartans, comfortable playing with his teammates.

“My focus is going to be those six guys getting the bulk of minutes and getting the feel in at game situations and playing together again, especially for Garrick Sherman,” Brey said. “He’s a veteran, but he hasn’t played for us yet. I want him comfortable and confident early in the year.”

Brey said Notre Dame would use both Sherman and Cooley together at times throughout the season, presenting opponents with a tall order down low.

“I’ve been happy with how those guys have kept our spacing good,” Brey said. “We haven’t got jammed up. They’re good together, they like playing together, they like passing to each other and man are we big and physical with those two in there.”

Cooley will be looking to build off a breakout season in which he averaged 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game en route to a spot on the all-Big East second team. Cooley was named to the preseason all-Big East first team Oct. 17. Brey said he is thrilled with what he has seen from the 6-foot-9, 246-pounder so far.

“Jack Cooley has been just dominant, flat-out dominant,” Brey said. “He has picked up another level from where he left off. I am so pleased with the maturity and the focus and the player he’s become. It’s really impressive.”

With upperclassmen like Cooley still fully realizing their potential, Brey said his team is not a finished product.

“We understand we have room to improve even though we have veterans back,” Brey said.

The Irish battle the Hawks on Monday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu