While campus was buzzing Thursday about the No. 7 Notre Dame football team, the unloading of trucks in the ESPN College GameDay convoy and the crucial tilt with No. 17 Stanford Saturday looming, Fighting Irish men’s basketball coach Mike Brey quietly pulled the curtain back to reveal his 2012-13 squad.
Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey, seen above with his seniors, unveiled a 2012-13 team with soaring expectations
It’s a team like no other in recent memory in South Bend — big, athletic, big, experienced and big — and saddled with monstrous expectations after a 22-12 record last season.
“When you start with the experience coming back, that is a great place to start in college basketball,” said Brey, who returns all five starters from a year ago and is eager to put a talented freshman class, particularly forwards Cam Biedscheid (6-foot-7, 186 pounds) and Zach Auguste (6-10, 230), to use.
It’s where you finish that counts, and the Irish, which rattled off nine consecutive victories in Big East Conference play, starting with a home upset over top-ranked Syracuse on Jan. 21, ran out of steam at the wrong time, losing to eventual league champion Louisville in the conference semifinals and to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame finished third in the regular-season standings with a 13-5 mark.
For now, Brey’s focus is trained on one prize at a time, beginning with a regular-season crown that has eluded the program since it joined the Big East in 1995.
“When we came back from the Xavier loss in the NCAA Tournament, when we got back the next day we talked about chasing a regular season championship in the Big East,” he said. “With the draw that we have in league play, that’s going to be a heckuva challenge with Louisville twice, Cincy twice and St. John’s twice and who we play on the road. Since we’ve been pretty darn close to that and been in the mix before, it’s a realistic thing that we talked about through the spring and the summer. That’s kind of where we’ve ended [talk of goals]. Regular season — try to do that.”
It’s clear, though, Brey believes he has a team that’s capable of much more. He’s even holding an open-to-the-public practice on Oct. 23 at South Bend’s Kroc Community Center to show it off, something Brey hasn’t done in his 12 previous seasons. It will be Irish fans’ first look at 6-10, 246-pound center Garrick Sherman, a senior with junior eligibility who transferred to Notre Dame last fall from Michigan State, forward Eric Katenda (6-9, 222), who enrolled last winter after an injury in the summer left him blind in one eye, and Biedscheid and Auguste.
But success this year hinges mostly on an intact starting group consisting of junior point guard Eric Atkins (6-2, 182), junior guard Jerian Grant (6-5, 202), sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton (6-5, 212), senior forward Jack Cooley (6-9, 246) and sixth-year senior guard Scott Martin (6-8, 218). Cooley, Grant and Atkins each averaged over 12 points per game last year.
“Let’s talk about our expectations,” Brey said about a conversation he had with his players. “There’s going to be all kinds thrown out there, and there already has been in the preseason. We’re honored [by]some of the things people said about us. But we lost [our first game] of the NCAA Tournament, we didn’t get to the Big East Championship game and we didn’t win a regular-season [title]. So what are our expectations in our room? I think it’s important for me to keep talking about that and for our leadership to keep talking about that.”
• Senior guard Joey Brooks will not play this season in what looks to be the first step in a possible future transfer. The 6-6, 223-pounder from Houston, Texas will be redshirted this season, Brey said. Brooks will be able to practice this season and will be available if injuries affect the Irish down the road.
“It [was] going to be hard for him to be part of our rotation, but I need him to help teach the young guys. I thought he did a good job of it in the summer.”
• Katenda is getting closer to his college debut, but Brey isn’t rushing things.
“This is important for Eric Katenda, these first two weeks,” Brey explained. “He never got teaching practices. He came in January and we were already flowing and practices were cut down to keep guys fresh. He’s a body we haven’t had.
“From what I’ve seen, my approach with him is ‘you just need another year of practicing with us.’ I want all the pressure off him. … If something changes and he jumps up there and we have injuries … but right now it’s tough to get him on the floor and that’s okay. I think that’s best for him. I just want to be really patient with him. He is eligible after exams, so he’d be eligible for the Big East season. We wouldn’t redshirt … we’re not thinking about getting another year back. When he starts playing he starts playing. His clock has kind of started.”
• It was announced at the end of last year that senior forward Mike Broghammer’s career was finished due to a number of knee injuries over the years. He was at media day for the team photo, but it was the last time he’ll put on an Irish jersey. He was able to practice with the team during the summer, but because of NCAA rules, he is now officially shut down.