Youthful squad set for lone exhibition game
Joe Everett | Thursday, November 1, 2018
Notre Dame will take to its home court for the first time this year when it faces off against Central State this Thursday in the team’s only exhibition game before the regular season. After an offseason that featured a trip to the Bahamas, the Irish are most recently coming off a scrimmage against Cincinnati on Sunday — an opportunity Irish head coach Mike Brey believes was beneficial for the team.
“We were in a hard game against a really tough, physical opponent,” Brey said. “We were disappointed we didn’t win, but I think that it was a hard-fought game, came down to game situations, and nothing was very easy against them and it was physical — I liked that we had that already.”
Heading into the 2018-19 campaign, the Irish feature a young squad this year with six members who have yet to play in a Notre Dame uniform. Brey knows that this season will be a process of tinkering with lineups and developing his largely inexperienced personnel, and reminded everyone that it will take some time.
“I think this group’s going to be answering us a lot during the non-league, since we just have so many new faces,” Brey said. “ … I remind myself: patience. It’s a really neat group of unproven guys that are trying their darndest, and I think we could be in that a while — trying to figure this out.”
The losses of the Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, two leading scorers from last year’s team, to graduation have left a void for offensive roles.
“Where our scoring comes from — I think that’s still going to be a search for a while, and I’ve got to keep an open mind and keep looking at stuff, experimenting with lineups and with the number of guys we have … there could be an ebb and flow of it with 10 guys for the whole season. Maybe 10 aren’t playing night to night, but if one or two aren’t playing as much — you can’t lose them — because it could come back around. We have so much unproven stuff, so you have to keep everyone alive.”
While the Notre Dame’s five freshman and UConn junior transfer forward Juwan Durham certainly bring inexperience, they also bring intrigue and excitement, and Brey analyzed what each player will bring to the team this year.
“A playmaking guard, he’s a good defender, he makes plays for people and he’s a good shooter, too,” Brey said. “He’s gained some weight and he’s going to be a key for us and I anticipate we will start him on Thursday with the other two guards.”
“Can stretch the floor and shoot it. He’s an underrated defensive rebounder, competes, puts it on the floor as well — he’s kind of an all-around, feel-for-the-game guy who has a great stroke. Got a toughness about him that you feel he’s ready to play as a young guy, and we need to play him — he’s a guy [like all our new guys] that we have to develop,” Brey said.
“Has gotten himself in great shape. He was a little heavy the summer before senior year because of an injury, but he’s in unbelievable shape,” Brey said. “He’s a driving, slashing kind of wing, but guards you, is physical, knows how to play. Young guys sometimes don’t understand team defense — maybe they can guard their guy but they don’t know how to help their teammates — he really knows how to play and helps that way. Another guy that we have to bring along because he’s got to be part of things this year.”
“That prototypical stretch-four man — a big who can step out and shoot it. We want him to shoot it. I think he’s now very confident in where he gets shots in our offense and our system, but like the three I’ve already mentioned, he can guard, he talks on defense, he rotates over … he knows how to play basketball. The basketball IQ is high on those four guys I just mentioned,” Brey said.
“Knows how to play and is a physical banger. Knows who he is,” Brey said. “Kind of a dirty-work, rebound and screen, physical guy. Obviously he missed the summer but I feel he’s all the way caught up from anything he missed [then].”
“The sixth guy, that’s a new face, and while he’s had a year with us, this is the first time he’s played in a while. He missed [time in] high school with a knee [injury], he didn’t play much at Connecticut, sat out [last] year — I think we have three full years with him. I made the comparison to [Martinas] Geben — we kind of had to wait on [him] a bit to give us what we thought was there — but [Juwan] does some thing, because of his body type, that we have not had a guy like that. I’ve been very pleased with his focus and trying to make him become a player,” Brey said.
Brey, known for his laid back coaching style, understands a team this young will require some trial and error.
“[We’ve] got to be good about letting them play through mistakes” Brey said. “If we ride with them and let them develop, they’re going to be good for us at the end of the day.”
For Brey, what makes an exhibition game against an opponent like Central State valuable is that it gets the new players comfortable on their home floor in a competitive setting before embarking on the real deal and the grind of the regular season, opening with University of Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 6.
“We’ve got six new faces that will put the uniform on for the first time on our floor, so that’s very important for Tuesday night, when we’re keeping real score when UIC comes in here,” Brey said. “For them to get comfortable on our floor, guys to get a feel for what it’s like to play in our building when the lights are really on … more dress rehearsals for a group like this is a good thing.”
The Irish will tip-off against the Marauders at 7 p.m. inside Purcell Pavilion.