ESPN.com - Tim Abromaitis was asked a question at Notre Dame media day about the vocalness of Eric Atkins, but it was asked with a caveat. "He's not Ben," the reporter said matter-of-factly. "No one's Ben ..." "No," Abromaitis said, cutting him off. "He's not crazy." Such is what Abromaitis and his Notre Dame teammates are tasked with in replacing Ben Hansbrough, who averaged 18.4 points per game last season en route to Big East Player of the Year honors. Hansbrough, now playing professionally in Germany, led the Irish to a 27-7 overall record and a stunning second-place finish (14-4) in a conference that sent 11 teams to the NCAA tournament. But it is Hansbrough's maniacal work ethic and the intensity that has become a trademark of his family that may leave a bigger void on a Notre Dame team featuring just two seniors this season, captains Abromaitis and Scott Martin. "I don't know -- there will never be another one of those guys," coach Mike Brey said of Hansbrough. "And my God, I miss him. Was there watching some tape the other day. He's doing it in Germany now. Can we do it a little collectively? That's not the personality really of any of our guys." Added Martin: "I don't think there's a human being on this planet that can match Ben Hansbrough's intensity." But what about his production? Abromaitis averaged 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season. Martin, a Purdue transfer, came on strong during the Big East tournament and finished his first season in an Irish uniform, averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. "It's definitely something we'll be missing because I don't think anybody can step up and replace what Ben did, with his personality and intensity and everything like that," Abromaitis said. "But just because we don't have that doesn't mean that we can't be successful and accomplish what we did last year, because I think we have a lot of talented guys and we have pretty good chemistry and we'll just know how to work together, really." That may start with Atkins, a sophomore point guard who played in every game last season, averaging 5.8 points and leading the Big East with a 2.56-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Throw in the surprise decision of Carleton Scott, last season's third-leading scorer and top rebounder, to skip a fifth year and enter the NBA draft -- he is now playing professionally in Spain -- and suddenly the maturity of Atkins becomes more of a focal point this season. "With Ben gone and with Carleton, I think those were our two biggest floor generals on the court," Atkins said. "And now with both of them gone we have Abro and Scott, and I think just the next guy is me. And I have to be the leader, just being the point guard and run the show, and being a voice for Coach, so I'm ready to step into that role." Atkins said Hansbrough told him this offseason that the team was his, something the 19-year-old tried to display during the summer by becoming more of a vocal presence with his teammates. Martin, a fifth-year senior, defaulted to Atkins when asked who would replace Hansbrough's leadership on the court. "That's kind of a point guard-thing, I feel," Martin said. "And the great thing is we have Eric coming back, with all that experience from that year, and being behind Ben and learning from Ben. So Eric definitely has us under control out there and we're gonna look to him to slow us down when we need to be slowed down and that sort of thing. Obviously Abro and I, we'll speak up every now and then if we need to. But Eric's the point guard and it's his pace." Still, minutes remain for the taking on a roster featuring just 10 eligible players. Martin and Abromaitis are the only returning starters from last year. Junior forward Jack Cooley will be the fourth starter. No. 5 is anyone's guess. Add in the fact that Abromaitis will miss the first four games after playing in two exhibitions during his sophomore season -- when he ended up redshirting -- and Brey has himself a free-for-all heading into the Irish's Nov. 12 opener against Mississippi Valley State. "I don't know if there was ever a team I could tell on the first day of practice, 'All right, let's start with this, fellas: Everybody's playing,' " Brey said. "I don't know if many coaches can say that. I certainly have never been in a situation like that. There's always a couple guys that, they're just not gonna be in the mix. But all nine of those guys, we're gonna need them throughout this season. 'Cause there's just so many unknowns from really four through nine. "So that could be changing throughout the year, and what I would hope is it gives a group really a clear head to just go and get better as a team because you can deposit the baggage of, 'Am I gonna play? How much am I gonna play?' You're gonna be part of it. We need all of you. And I think we have to do a real good job [as] coaches of instilling confidence in some of those newer guys." If nothing else, the storyline isn't entirely unfamiliar in the Joyce Center this season. Last year the Irish were forced to replace three-time All-American Luke Harangody. What happened? Brey had his winningest season at Notre Dame and the Irish matched the best Big East record in school history. "You can't replace anybody," Martin said. "You just have to look to fill up a new role and find a new group for yourself. We got a lot of young guys that are coming in here hungry with a chip on their shoulder. They wanted to play last year and they didn't get the opportunity so now they're full-go and ready to go after this. "We definitely have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder in terms of just getting out there and playing and winning games."