Oct. 3, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Notre Dame men's basketball team gathered in The Pit for its second practice earlier this week and the atmosphere had a decidedly different feel than the first practice held four days earlier.
During the season, the Irish frequently practice there, and when they do, there always seems to be a high level of intensity both from players and coaches. In most instances, The Pit offers fewer distractions in a more confined area and practices are always spirited and competitive. Tuesday's practice proved to be much the same.
Before practice, Brey gathered his squad to watch some film from the team's first practice. Chairs were set up surrounding the flat screen television and Brey was situated in the middle of his group, a position he normally takes when the team watches film. Watching film in this setting is commonplace during the season for the 14-year Irish mentor and his team. Always the teacher, Brey appears comfortable and at home with his team in this type of a setting.
The focus of this film session (normally not conducted after the team's first practice), was on the team's half-court, man-to-man defense. As Brey emphasized both the positives and negatives of the team's first official practice, for fifth-year senior Tom Knight, it further solidified how important the early start has become to him.
"I really like the format of practice this year and the way Coach Brey has structured it for us," Knight says. "Not having practice everyday gives guys a chance to get after it as hard as they can and rest their bodies until we get into the full swing of things in a couple of weeks."
More importantly for night, these first few practices will help the Irish work on their defense and footwork, both of which where keys Brey that Brey noted throughout the 90-minute practice session.
"The first couple practices have given our freshmen a chance to learn the offense and defense," Knight adds. "We had some guys in the first practice who really didn't quite know what to do. Coach wanted to make a point of what is expected of us on defense."
Knight knows that a defensive mindset will be important to the success of this veteran Irish team that returns four starters, but he also understands how crucial his presence and leadership on the floor will be this year. There's a different mindset this year for the Dixfield, Maine native.
"I've definitely got a different mindset this year," Knight says. "The difference between this year and last is that this season my coaches and teammates have expectations of me. I matter more this year to this team and I have a certain role."
Following the 2012-13 season and receiving his bachelor's degree in May in management consulting from the Mendoza College of Business, Knight took a hard looked at himself and realized that he had to remove the "jokester" tag that had followed him throughout his previous four years. He's realized that this is last go around and wants people to know how fully invested he in this season.
"I'm trying to be a leader and an example for the younger guys on this teams. I want to do more for this team," says Knight who started the final 16 games of the season and averaged career bests of 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. "I'm looking forward to helping this team out."
Like many of his teammates, Knight was not unhappy with his team's final performance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The loss to the Cyclones, particularly the way in which the Irish lost, proved to be incentive for Knight throughout workouts in the spring and summer.
"I realized after the loss that team has some needs," Knight says. "I thought about my role and how I could provide more for this team. It's time for me to stop being that `immature kid.' I realized that it was time to step up and be older and more mature.
"Our team was embarrassed by what happened against Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament. I don't think we were mentally prepared. I've heard Eric Atkins allude to the fact that we didn't play to our ability."
Shaking the stigma of being the team jokester is something that Knight wants to shed.
"It's been my stigma for the last four years of being a jokester," Knight says. "People still see me as one and I try hard not to be one, but some things stay with you. It's something that I am trying to get away from and be a more serious person. I think the guys on the team, along with my coaches have recognized that."
Knight is looking for his team to begin finding it's identity over the course of the next two weeks. In previous season, he notes, it's taken the team several weeks, but he's hoping the early start to practice will give the 2013-14 squad the chance to figure it out sooner.
"We want to lay the foundation for this team earlier," Knight says. "We want to lay the foundation earlier and keep building so when we get to the tournament we are beyond where we have been in previous seasons.
"I like the mindset of our team right now. I think our fans can to see a hard-nosed team that is always prepared both mentally and physically that is going to be ready for any challenge that is presented to us."
While Tom Knight looks to shed his `jokester image,' the Irish forward is allowing himself to display his unique personality and dry sense of humor. Throughout the school year, he appear on und.com's student-athlete blog, Through Irish Eyes, in his only special video segment called `Ponder This!'
Presented with the idea by two members of Notre Dame's Student Welfare and Development department, senior assistant athletics director Mike Harrity and program coordinator, Ally Stanton, Knight is featured in a video series soliciting opinions from members of the Notre Dame community. The premier episode released a couple of weeks ago centered around Eminem's appearance on ESPN during the Notre Dame-Michigan football game in September.
Irish fans should look in the coming week for a second installation of Ponder This! in which Knight examines a fashion faux pas.