Senior Day brings Atkins’ journey to a close
Andrew Gastelum | Saturday, March 1, 2014
Looking back, I don’t remember a whole lot from first day on the men’s basketball beat, three-and-a-half years ago. It might have been my birthday, maybe, but I do remember one thing clearly. After that game, I walked into the locker room for my first interview as a wide-eyed, anxious freshman.
Turns out, there was another sitting right in front of me.
There was Eric Atkins sitting on the couch with a crowd of reporters surrounding him, doing something that was completely out of his element: talking about himself. He had just played 36 minutes and put up double-digit points against a top-25 team, all while showing poise well beyond his years. But right here, he was the rookie speaking in one-word sentences while looking at the floor as if the answer was waiting there to be picked up.
He was awkward, maybe a little rattled and obviously uncomfortable, but one just had this feeling he was going to be something great down the road. I still have the notepad where I wrote down two words “EA legacy.” I remember that like it was yesterday, he probably doesn’t.
Three-and-a-half years later, we dub him as the go-to guy in the locker room, the father figure, the undeniable leader. It was obvious, he would have to become that guy, almost as if it were a prophecy of some sort. Along the way, you can tell he was uncomfortable trying to break into his role. But he adapted.
If there was one thing that was certain since his first day, it was his adaptability. When the Irish needed a man to bring the ball up the court and facilitate, Atkins adapted. When Jerian Grant was dismissed from the team and they needed a scorer, Atkins adapted. When a senior-heavy team departed and the team needed a leader, Atkins adapted.
But instead of bringing the noise, Atkins brought a rest-assured calm to the court. No one brought more recognition to the phrase “leading by example” than him, and he’s been doing it for quite some time. He’s closing in on 1,400 career points and 600 career assists, and recently joined a notable group of Notre Dame point guards (Tory Jackson, Chris Thomas and David Rivers) as the only Notre Dame players to record four straight 100-assist seasons.
On Saturday, he played his last game at Purcell Pavilion, the very place that will surely miss his presence next year and in years to come. It will miss a guy who played all 60 minutes in an unforgettable five-overtime victory over Louisville in 2012. Gone is the point guard who willed a career-high 30 points in the team’s first game without leading scorer Grant. No more will the captain who hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer against Boston College grace this floor.
That is, as a player. Irish coach Mike Brey acknowledged Atkins would make one heck of a coach someday. He will come into that job with some experience, as Irish fans will have Atkins to partially thank for freshman point guard Demetrius Jackson’s bright future.
So on Saturday, I returned to the couch where that timid freshman once sat in a newly-pressed No. 0 jersey and another eager freshman once stood in a wrinkled dress shirt and mismatched socks.
No longer was he the same shy kid, while I tried my best to dress up a little nicer.
I looked at him and asked what I had written down on my first day: “What was your legacy?”
He smiled and looked me in the eye, confident and proud. I didn’t need to hear what he said. I saw where his journey had taken him, from start to finish, boy to man. He knew the answer all along.
“I became a man here.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.