Eric Katenda came to Notre Dame last January a semester behind schedule while trying to adapt to a game that was once second nature to him. A cruel and uncommon accident in the summer left the 6-foot-9 forward permanently blinded in his left eye, the result of a pickup game in a park, and NCAA clearinghouse issues held him up from enrolling in the summer.
The Fighting Irish coaching staff monitored the French native during the second half of last season, which included redshirting and limited scrimmage time in practice, and was happy with his progress. It’s still unclear whether or not Katenda will ever suit up for Notre Dame, though everyone involved continues to be optimistic. However, with Scott Martin receiving a sixth year of eligibility recently from the NCAA, there’s no rush to push Katenda into action before he’s completely ready.
“I think for him [it’s] still being very patient,” head coach Mike Brey said Monday. “We had workouts in the spring; I’m impressed with the development. To throw this young man into this academic environment and playing basketball and [thrown] right into practice, I thought he survived it pretty well. But I think we need to be really patient. Maybe it’s just another year of him playing basketball and practicing with us before he’s a factor. If he moves the clock ahead, we can work with that too. I’m going to be patient with him.”
Katenda averaged 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals as a senior at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kans. He was supposed to fill out a 2011 class that included Massachusetts star baseball/basketball player Pat Connaughton, who ended up securing a spot in the starting five midway through last season.
Katenda nearly committed to Wake Forest but changed his mind in favor of the Irish on April 26 of last year. A month after the eye injury, he told BlueandGold.com it was the right decision.
“If I would have gone to another school [keeping my scholarship after this injury] probably wouldn’t have happened,” he explained. “I didn’t know why I changed my mind, but I’m glad I did.”
Though it appears Katenda will be able to perform at some point, he’ll be allowed to stay on general scholarship if his athletic career does come to an end because of the injury.
With the trio of Austin Burgett, Cameron Biedscheid and Zach Auguste set to land in South Bend in the coming months, Brey explained that Martin’s return will influence the next generation of Irish players, though just as much patience will be required.
“I think [the incoming freshmen] seen how our program has been managed,” Brey said. “I think there’s one or two of them that will earn some minutes and some time in our rotation, especially now that we’ll get to coach them in the summer; that’s going to be a great advantage to get them caught up and to be part of things by Oct. 15 — the first day of practice. There’s no question that veteran guys have an advantage over young guys, but I’m excited about that class. Some we need to bring along slow, others we need to throw them right into the fire."