Coming off a top-five finish in the 2010-11 regular-season's final AP poll, the men's basketball team started practices last week as it began to replicate one of the greatest campaigns in recent memory. Although few have the opportunity to witness the team before its first exhibition against St. Xavier (Nov. 1), 700 season-ticket holders got the chance to witness a live practice yesterday at Purcell Pavilion. "We felt it would be a way of treating our season-ticket holders, our most loyal fans - many of these people have had season tickets 20-plus years - and get them some special treatment and some special inside info into our program and our team early in the season," head coach Mike Brey said. "It's been a very positive thing to meet and talk with our season-ticket holders and let them meet our players." For two hours in the early evening, the season-ticket holders had the chance to watch the open practice, cheering on their favorite players who took part in scrimmages and practice drills. "This is really good. We get to see the team a little bit in a real practice and enjoy it," said Anthony Gianoli, a three-year season-ticket holder.
The practice also gave participants the chance to get an early glimpse into the new Irish season and see if the team can build off last year's success. "I think this team reminds you of the one right after they struggled that year when (Chris) Quinn was a senior and they weren't supposed to be any good," said Rich Bitner, who has held season tickets for 28 years. "And (Luke) Harangody exploded and Tory Jackson played so much better and they came out of nowhere. "Brey always finds great young men and and he turns them into really good ballplayers." After practice, a dinner in the Joyce Center's north dome allowed season-ticket holders to interact with Irish players. "We love getting to meet our season ticket holders and spending time with them," junior Jack Cooley said. "I have a lot of fun doing this. I get to learn a lot about people who come see our games and see how dedicated the fans really are." A highlight for the players was the class introductions, during which one player spoke for the rest of his classmates. The presenters took a few shots at their fellow teammates while describing them to the crowd. "The guy I'm going to introduce is in the fifth year class with me," said graduate student Tim Abromaitis, speaking of Scott Martin. "I think we're the most interesting. Probably the most talented. Definitely the best looking. And I would say the smartest, but this guy's been in college for four full years and has done summer school for five years and has still found a way to not graduate yet." As the event has continued to grow from 300 attendees in its infancy five years ago, the season-ticket holders gain new perks for their loyalty. This year the dinner moved from Heritage Hall to the north dome, where video screens allowed Brey to go through a "video session" with the guests while players signed autographs. "Any time I ask the guys to do anything that involves interacting with fans or kids, they're very flexible. They're very good at it," said event organizer Kali Hofer, who spearheads men's basketball marketing campaigns through the Notre Dame marketing and promotions department. "We don't have many opportunities where people get to interact one-on-one with the guys, so this is their big chance to get to talk with them, get their autographs, take pictures with them. I know a lot of them were very appreciative of it." - Craig Chval ('15)