Eric Katenda Sees First Action

One thing’s for sure: Eric Katenda won’t go down as the Moonlight Graham of Notre Dame basketball.

Sophomore forward Eric Katenda debuted Sunday with one minute of playing time against Virginia Tech.

Graham became famous in the book Shoeless Joe and later in the movie Field of Dreams for having entered a Major League Baseball game — the only of his career —without recording a fielding statistic or an at-bat. The only mark in the box score Katenda, the sophomore forward who has encountered a number of setbacks before finally playing in his first collegiate game Sunday against Virginia Tech, notched was a foul in one minute of playing time, but this is likely not the last time Irish fans see him in action.

With 1:35 remaining in the first half and Notre Dame leading 34-24 in an eventual 70-63 win, head coach Mike Brey turned to his bench and called for “Eric” to enter the game.

Katenda, not knowing that he would be playing against Virginia Tech, hesitated while thinking that Brey must have meant the senior guard with whom he shares a name, Eric Atkins.

“I didn’t flat-out tell him [that he would play], but I was watching him in practice and he’s practiced … two weeks without any issues with his knee,” Brey said. “I think he was a little shocked. He kind of hesitated. I said, ‘No, you. The other Eric’s in the game.’”

For the ensuing 75 seconds, Katenda — who was unavailable for comment following the game — remained on the court for a pair of successful defensive stops.

“The crowd really acknowledged him and he did a good job for us defensively in [the] possessions to end the half … being physical around the post,” Brey said. “Stay healthy, let’s see what happens.”

Katenda’s road to playing time at Notre Dame has been an arduous one. He committed to the university in April 2011, but missed the fall semester of his freshman year after a freak accident while playing pickup basketball during the summer. The mishap left the 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward permanently blind in his left eye.

He redshirted during the 2012-13 season and entered preseason practice this past fall with his hopes set on cracking the playing rotation. In mid-October, the one-time four-star recruit experienced another bout of bad luck when he injured his right knee in practice and required microfracture knee surgery that held him out of crucial prep for the season for six weeks.

An injury that left Katenda permanently blind in his left eye and subsequent knee surgery kept the forward sidelined until Sunday.

Finally, his moment arrived against Virginia Tech.

“That was great,” Brey said. “He’s been healthy for about two weeks practicing with us. He is a big, physical body and I just want to get him in the game. He’s had unbelievable bad luck on the health side of it. His teammates love him. I thought it was great.

“That was bigger than what we needed as a team. That kid deserved to be in the game, but I really thank our fans … and our students [for] really acknowledging him. I was up singing the alma mater with my 6th man [after the game] and four students said, ‘Thanks for putting Eric in, he’s in my class.’ People love him and feel for him.”

Although Katenda’s future playing time depends on his health and performance in practice, Sunday served as a positive moment for a young man who has experienced some rather negative ones the past three years.

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