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Men’s Basketball: Brey adresses starters, rebounding at media day

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The jerseys were tucked in. The afternoon schedule was mapped out. The assistant coaches had nattily-knotted ties to go with their sharp suits.

Most everything at Wednesday’s media day was crisp and predetermined for the Irish.

Everything, that is, except the team’s ACC identity and its rotation.

“I’m always excited this time of year, but I’m even more fired up for two reasons,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Number one, the group we have returning – and I certainly have gotten to see a lot of them through summer practices and four or five preseason practices – and the excitement of, the challenge of trying to figure out who we are in the Atlantic Coast Conference starting Jan. 4.”

Notre Dame, which is coming off a 25-10 season in which it was bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the second round by Iowa State, moves to the ACC this season and leaves behind the Big East. In Brey’s 13 seasons in the Big East, the Irish won 136 regular-season conference games and reached the semifinals of the league tournament in each of the final four seasons.

“Our whole thing has been, can we create a consistent presence in the ACC like we have in the Big East?” Brey asked. “We’re very proud of how consistent we’ve been year to year in the Big East. We’ve been as good as anybody at delivering during regular-season league play. Been pretty good in the league tournament too.”

Notre Dame returns nine of 11 players from last year’s squad but will have to replace forwards Jack Cooley and Scott Martin. Brey said the top of his rotation – senior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, junior guard/forward Pat Connaughton, graduate student forward Tom Knight, senior center Garrick Sherman and sophomore forward Zach Auguste – provides a strong starting point in the quest to attain the same consistency in the ACC.
“It kind of gives you six men that have been through the battles, and we certainly have a lot to pick from as we’re trying to figure out who joins those six with our depth,” Brey said.

Packed perimeter
After the starting group of Atkins, Grant and Connaughton, Brey said he has plenty of options from which to choose in the backcourt and on the wings.

“When you look at the perimeter guys we’ve got, we’ve got a dogfight for minutes after you talk about those three starters,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential there with some of the young guys.”

Maybe the most notable of the youngsters is freshman guard and Mishawaka, Ind., native Demetrius Jackson. ESPN ranked the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder as the 24th-best player in the class of 2013 and the No. 6 point guard. Jackson has already drawn praise for his high energy and defensive relentlessness. Fellow freshmen Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem and sophomore forward Cam Biedscheid, who averaged 6.2 points per game a season ago, also factor into the logjam.

Brey said since practice began Sept. 27, the Irish have focused on contesting more passing lanes and pressuring the ball more frequently as a team.

“That’s where it’s going to start for us this year,” Grant said. “We know we can score with the best of them, but defensively we’ve got to be able to get that stop when we need it. I felt like down the stretch last year that’s not something we did.”

Replacing Cooley
Something Notre Dame did do last year was rebound. Specifically, the 6-foot-9 workhorse Cooley averaged 10.1 boards per game and particularly dominated the offensive glass. Brey said his biggest concern moving forward is “how we’re going to rebound the ball.”

“We’re going to have to be a team rebounding group,” Brey said. “Certainly those bigs have got to be better in that department because we don’t have Jack Cooley anymore, but our perimeter has got to help us.”

Atkins and Grant averaged 2.6 and 2.9 rebounds per game, respectively, in 2012-13, while Connaughton tallied 4.7 per contest. As for the post players, Knight, Sherman and Auguste combined to average 9.6 rebounds per game last season.

“Right now we don’t have that beast on the glass like Jack was,” Knight said. “Jack took it to heart that he was going to get every rebound. We don’t have guys who are used to doing that. So maybe as the season goes along, we’ll find that one person that will be that guy, but right now everyone is expected to do their job.”

Brey’s job, meanwhile, has been whittled down to a sole objective.

“Our goal – and we talked about it this morning in practice – can we earn a bid in the first year in the ACC?” Brey asked. “Can we right out of the gate get a bid?”

The Irish begin exhibition play Oct. 28 when they face off with Indianapolis at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]