For Notre Dame, it seems like anything that can go wrong has gone wrong.
Fifth-year senior forward Tom Knight returned to practice for the first time in two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle, and coming down with the flu and pneumonia.
It started with the collapse of an eight-point lead in the final minute against then-No. 3 Ohio State Dec. 21, followed by the departures of senior guard Jerian Grant and sophomore forward Cam Biedscheid in the ensuing days. In January, an ACC-opening win against Duke preceded a three-game losing streak and losses in four of five games, during which the Irish (11-8, 2-4 ACC) fell just short in each contest.
Most recently, fifth-year senior forward Tom Knight missed the past four games with a sprained ankle, flu and pneumonia, and sophomore forward Austin Burgett had to sit out most of the second half of the 76-74 loss to Florida State on Tuesday due to an irregular heart beat. The good news for head coach Mike Brey’s squad is that both players have returned to practice.
Knight practiced Thursday for the first time since Jan. 9, when he originally sprained his ankle. While recovering from that issue — one he admits would’ve cost him one or two games by itself — he developed the flu and eventually came down with pneumonia, a bout that required two trips to the university health center.
“I tested positive for the flu and the doctor told me that 10 percent of the cases of people who get the flu get pneumonia,” Knight said. “So he said it was something to watch out for, especially because I had pneumonia the last two years. After I got over the flu, there were still problems with my breathing so they wanted to check that out and finally it was pneumonia.
“When I had the flu part of it, I was watching [the Maryland game Jan. 15] on TV and was like, ‘How do they move like that? I can’t move.’ It was hard to get out of bed.”
As his career begins to wind down, Knight said he hopes to bring a toughness to the team when he returns. That could be as early as this Saturday at Wake Forest, but Tuesday against Virginia appears more likely as he works his way back into game shape after a two-week bed stay.
“I’ve got to go out there with the mentality that this is my last go-around,” Knight said. “There’s nothing to leave on the floor, so I’ll give it all I’ve got and work hard to get back in the rotation and give everyone hell.”
Burgett also returned to practice Thursday after undergoing a number of tests to figure out why he experienced an irregular heartbeat Tuesday. The doctors determined he has junctional tachycardia, which essentially means he has an abnormally fast heartbeat. His availability for Saturday is unclear as he undergoes additional tests, Brey said on his radio show Thursday.
Sophomore forward Austin Burgett returned to practice Thursday after leaving Tuesday’s game with an irregular heartbeat.
“I was spooked about it and so many different things were going through my head,” said Burgett, who also experienced the issue while playing AAU ball as a sophomore in high school. “It happened toward the end of the first half and I just thought I was having trouble breathing and was out of breath. I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to catch my breath. It’s almost halftime. I’ll be okay.’ … I did that and seemed fine and I came out in the second half for warmups and just felt kind of weird.
“My chest felt pretty heavy. We went up and down once or twice and it felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest. We came out of that timeout and I couldn’t breathe or catch my breath. Skip came over and he was like, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was looking down at the ground and he said I was pale like a ghost.”
Before Brey’s comments in his evening radio show, Burgett had indicated he was likely to play at Wake Forest, saying that the doctors said he could compete until he experienced the problem again. If it did, then Burgett would have to undergo a procedure that would sideline him for a week.
“I’m just really hoping it doesn’t happen again,” said Burgett, who could not sleep on the flight back to South Bend on Tuesday but passed the time by chatting with teammate Pat Crowley and watching a movie. “It’s always in the back of your head. Is it going to happen again? I hope it doesn’t.
“It almost felt like at first that my heart stopped, but then it kept beating really quick and felt like somebody was standing on my chest.”
At two games under .500 in league play with February approaching, Brey maintains that the team morale remains high with the program’s four-year NCAA Tournament streak in jeopardy.
“We’ve got veteran guys who do a great job with leadership,” he said. “Our morale is great and it showed in how we played and competed. We’re disappointed we came up short [against Florida State], but this group comes back in and goes to work every day and [Wednesday] was an off day, we needed a little bit of rest. We’ll get back to practice [Thursday] and see if we can do a little better in some areas before we go on the road again. They love playing basketball. Kids are amazing and resilient. They just want to play and they want to be coached and helped. We’ve got that atmosphere.”
With a trio of freshmen logging heavy minutes and a couple sophomores in the nine-player rotation as well, Brey said he is spending more time teaching at this point in the season than he can remember during his 14-year tenure.
Head coach Mike Brey called the contributions of freshman guard Steve Vasturia “rock solid.”
“It’s new territory,” he said. “For us, I want to keep those young guys’ heads up and teach them. You don’t want to jump down their throat because they want to be good. Same thing with Burgett. We’ve been a confidence-giving program, can we do that with him right now? Can we do that more with the three freshmen. I do think right now [freshman guard Steve] Vasturia is giving us some rock solid stuff. He can guard, he knows how to play with the other guys, he’s made some big shots.
“I thought [freshman guard Demetrius Jackson], really the last two games were really good games for him. We just want to keep building. We’ve always said, ‘Who are we going to be Feb. 1?’”
With more time spent on coaching and without an open spot in the ACC schedule, Brey said he has been unable to travel for recruiting purposes as much as he would like.
“I wouldn’t mind going to see a game in Chicago, but I wanted to watch Wake Forest [Wednesday] night,” he said. “The [assistant coaches] have gotten out a bit. I have not. I have to try to get out on an off day after that Syracuse [Feb. 3] to North Carolina [Feb. 8]. Staying in touch with guys, texting, calling, but haven’t been able to see them.
“The nice thing about the change in calendar is you do have the April weekends now. So I can always close the gap when we get back in the swing of things. These guys have been sneaking out, seeing some people. We’ve got scholarships.”
Everyone around the program seems to embrace the university’s 10-year contract with Under Armour.
“I’m excited about the future of it. Jerian came by the hotel at the Maryland game and I spent some time with Jerian and the last thing he said was, ‘Hey, coach, Under Armour, that’s going to be really cool.’ I think it’s an exciting new thing for us. They’re going to do some things that have never been done before by a shoe and apparel company. I think we’ll be able to coach them on some stuff. They’re going to come out next week and we’re going to be able to look at some uniforms.
“I promise it’s not going to be as crazy as our [lime green] postseason uniforms. I wouldn’t do that again. That was a one-shot deal, mid-life crisis, the whole bit.”
Head coach Mike Brey and fifth-year senior Tom Knight criticized the alternate adidas uniforms Notre Dame wore last March.
Knight echoed his head coach’s sentiments regarding the adidas uniforms Notre Dame wore last March.
“I’m looking at one of the girls basketball players over there wearing the lime green warmup shirt and it brings back bad memories,” said Knight while being interviewed at the end of a women’s basketball workout. “That thing hurt putting on. A little blinding.
“I think [the move to Under Armour is] interesting. Under Armour has good things going, they’re developing the basketball program a lot with the deal that we got. You can’t say anything bad about it. It’s an exciting move for Notre Dame and Under Armour. I want to get some of that gear next year. I’ll find a way.”