Oct. 25, 2013
The journey begins.
After 18 seasons as a member of the BIG EAST Conference, the Notre Dame men's basketball program has found a new home in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Long regarded as one of the nation's most prolific and tradition-filled basketball conferences, the move to the ACC has 14-year head coach Mike Brey and the entire Irish basketball program energized.
Perhaps no individual is better prepared to steer the Irish program into its new basketball home than Brey. The Rockville, Md., native grew up a Maryland Terrapin and ACC basketball fan and his first coaching job in the collegiate ranks was as an assistant at Duke for eight seasons.
Steeped in tradition, basketball has been the lifeblood and hallmark of the conference for more than 60 years. Notre Dame's move to the ACC appears to be the perfect fit for this Irish team, which returns four starters from last season's 25-10 campaign.
"I am thrilled with the experience we have coming back and I love the fact that I am taking this year's team into the ACC for our inaugural season," Brey says. "We want to earn an NCAA Tournament bid in our first year in the ACC and we want to navigate the ACC like we did the BIG EAST. We have experience, but can we be solid and consistent in the ACC regular season because we did a great job of that in the BIG EAST."
The Irish are coming off a school-record seventh consecutive 20-win season. Notre Dame finished 25-10 and 11-7 in the BIG EAST play en route to a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. The 25 wins matched the second-most under Brey during his 13-year tenure.
Brey once again has a veteran team and has enjoyed a rhythm of staying old. Notre Dame's four returning starters -- guards Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant and forward Tom Knight -- have started a combined 212 games with 193 of those starts coming from the backcourt trio of Atkins, Connaughton and Grant.
Frontline players Knight and Garrick Sherman are both fifth-year seniors. Knight has been in the Irish program for five years after sitting out his freshman season in 2009-10, while Sherman is in his third season with Notre Dame. It's Sherman's fifth season as a college player after he sat out the 2011-12 campaign following his transfer from Michigan State where he played from 2009-11.
"We've stayed old a couple of different ways either by getting transfers or having them sit out a year to give them time to grow up, get older and familiarize themselves better with our system," Brey says. "The success we have had in developing players has helped us stay older and the return has been that our guys are older and invested in the program. The last few years, the hallmark of our program is that we've been able to be a veteran team with players who have experience."
Brey's confidence in his team also stems from the fact that they have won a lot of games together. This past four-year cycle from 2009-13 saw the Irish win a school-record 97 games for a better than 70.0 winning percentage. And that is what makes Brey, comfortable with leading this year's team into the ACC.
"I love where this group of players is at," Brey says. "When you factor in the experience we have coming back, the amount of time that they have played together and the fact that they have won a lot together, it makes me feel very confident . We're all really excited about the challenge of a new league and want to prove ourselves."
The staple of Notre Dame's offense will once again be its perimeter game. It's long been the trademark of Irish teams coached by Brey. Atkins, Grant and Connaughton have logged a lot of playing time together and are each in their third year as starters. Atkins and Grant should rank as one of the country's and ACC's best backcourt tandems.
What Brey is looking for out of his trio this season is for them to emerge as bigger leaders. "I really value the input of the player in our program," Brey says. "I am really looking for these three to become the voices in our locker room. Their leadership is going to be very important to us this season."
Brey was pleased with Knight's progression in 2012-13 after he became a starter in mid-January when an injury sidelined Scott Martin for the remainder of the season. Knight started the final 16 games of the season, shot the ball well from the floor and was a presence at both ends of the floor. This season, Brey is looking for Knight to build on last year's success.
"I don't want him to put to put too much pressure on himself," Brey says. "He'll have those three perimeter guys that will take pressure off of him so I just want him to play with the same confidence he did last season. I give him a lot of credit because I wasn't playing him a lot before Scott's (Martin) injury and when we brought him in, he saved us. I expect that he is going to be a rock-solid guy for us and someone that we are going to be able to count on every time we take the court."
While Brey knows he can count on his five veterans, he's excited about the potential of second-year returnees Zach Auguste, Cameron Biedscheid and Austin Burgett as well as freshmen V.J. Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, Austin Torres and Steve Vasturia. There'll be plenty of options for Brey, but don't expect him to go far into his lineup as that has normally not been his style. Brey is usually comfortable with a rotation of seven or eight players.
Sherman and Auguste likely will vie for the other starting spot on the frontline alongside Knight. Both were playing with a great deal of confidence at the end of last season and Brey is hoping that each will carry that momentum into this year.
"Zach had me excited in the summer, especially how he finished last season," Brey says. "We don't have another big guy in the program with his athletic ability. We need to nurture and coach him. He's someone I am very focused on and want to bring him along and get him more confident.
"With Garrick, I feel really good about the way he finished off last season. He struggled a little bit midway through the year and was dwelling too much on when he made mistakes and bad games. I think it hurt him last year, but now he is able to get onto the next play. I just want him to be play with confidence. Garrick knows we have expectations of him, but he also knows that he has a great set of guards that can help him."
The one area of concern for Brey this season that he is not shy about talking about is rebounding. Gone is Jack Cooley, a first-team all-BIG EAST selection and one of the nation's leading rebounders each of the last two years. Cooley averaged a double-double last season in scoring 13.3 points and grabbing 10.1 rebounds.
"Jack did a lot of the dirty work for us on the boards at both ends of the floor," Brey says. "It's a concern for me this year because he had a great presence for us in the paint; the guy was a relentless rebounder. I think that our guards are going to have to do some rebounding for us. I think that Pat (Connaughton) will be one of those guys who can really contribute for us"
6-2 182 Guard
Senior Columbia, Md.
In his third season as the Irish floor general, this will truly be Eric Atkins' team. Like all point guards who have played under Mike Brey, Atkins will be an extension of Brey's voice on the court. A year ago, he averaged 11.2 points and dished off 5.5 rebounds and led the Irish in minutes played (38.3).
Atkins is regarded as one of the most underrated point guards in the country; he's not flashy, but is always so productive each time he takes the floor. He doesn't turn the ball over (2.1 turnovers per game a year ago), considering how much the ball is in his hands. Atkins shot 43.9 percent from the field a year ago and 41.5 percent from beyond the arc. He's developed an all-around backcourt game that makes him one of the nation's best at his position.
Brey on Atkins:
"I love coaching this guy. He is so steady and has a great feel and understanding for the game and what we are trying to do in our system. He finishes my sentences; that's how close we are. I really value his opinion. He's the voice and pulse of our team. Our guys respect and listen to them. Because of what he has done on the court, he's earned it."
6-10 242 Forward
Sophomore Marlborough, Mass.
Zach Auguste figures heavily into Brey's plans this season. His athletic ability and talent will be a key for the Irish. He averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds a year ago, but proved to be a key contributor down the stretch. Brey will be looking to take advantage of his unique skill set and his ability to play above the rim.
Brey was able to bring Auguste into the fold slowly last year, but he'll count on the sophomore to log more playing time this season Auguste will be battling Sherman for the fifth spot as a starter in the Irish lineup.
Brey on Auguste:
"The sky is the limit for Zach. I'm excited to see his development, but am very conscious of making sure we bring him along in the right way. His athletic ability gives us something that we have not had since Ryan Humphrey more than 10 years ago. He could be a unique frontline player for us. Early on, I want him to focus on rebounding, defending and running the floor."
6-8 187 Forward
Freshman Fort Wayne, Ind.
V. J. Beachem is one of three freshmen from the state of Indiana on the Irish roster. He's a talented and athletic scorer with a great shooting touch from the outside. Beachem will compliment Notre Dame's perimeter game. He has a good court awareness and a feel for the game.
Beachem's gives the Irish another athletic body on the floor and is a player who can serve a variety of roles. He scored more than 1,500 points during his high school career and averaged 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a senior and was a three-time all-state honoree. Brey is hoping that as the season progresses he can get bigger and stronger as he has a great future in an Irish uniform.
Brey on Beachem:
"V.J. is the kind of shooter that can spot up like we are used to having in Pat (Connaughton). He does a good job of putting the ball on the floor. V.J. is going to be an athletic defender for us, thanks to his wingspan. He's steady and mature on the court and is very easy for his teammates to play with on the court and is going to be a very valuable player for us."
6-7 186 Forward
Sophomore St. Louis, Mo.
Cameron Biedscheid is a talented offensive player who struggled at times a year ago as a freshman. He played in 34 contests last year and has the offensive firepower to put points on the board quickly. Biedscheid averaged 6.2 points per game and 17.4 minutes per game, but had a disappointing end to last season.
He needs to continue to develop his consistency on a daily basis and become a better defender to get more playing time.
Brey on Biedscheid:
"Cam is one of those guys that can score the ball quickly. In order to play longer minutes for us, he is going to need to be more consistent on defense. He and I were both disappointed with the way he finished off the season. We need him to work towards being a consistent player at both ends of the floor. I don't want him to have swings of emotion."
6-9 227 Forward
Sophomore Avon, Ind.
Austin Burgett could be a surprise player for the Irish this season after seeing action in only 18 games as a freshman and averaging just 0.6 points and 0.6 rebounds. He could be a real impact player on the perimeter.
Burgett has good size and handles the ball extremely well. His ability to shoot from the perimeter could earn him significantly more minutes this season. He handles the ball extremely well for a player with his size and has gained confidence in his overall game since the end of last season.
Brey on Burgett:
"Austin had a good summer and could be a real key player for us this season because of his size and his ability to shoot the basketball. Similar to where Jack Cooley was heading into his sophomore year, we need Austin to be hungrier about the game on a daily basis. I think his demeanor has changed in that regard. He can be a big impact player for us this year and gives us that face-up four man where we can play smaller and open up the floor."
6-5 214 Forward/Guard
Junior Arlington, Mass.
Since his arrival as a freshman, Pat Connaughton has been a stalwart for the Irish, doing a bit of everything at both ends of the floor. He has started 53 of the 69 contests that he has played in an Irish uniform. When Scott Martin went down with his knee injury, Connaughton became Notre Dame's top defender. He's also shown that he can be a scorer as well.
Connaughton averaged 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds and shot 44.5 percent from the field last season. He'll be asked this season to become more of a scorer and rebounder and Brey will look to him to improve all of his numbers across the board. Because of his toughness and savvy, Connaughton is going to be counted on to do more at both ends of the floor and to be more aggressive offensively.
Brey on Connaughton:
"Pat is going to have to be a stopper for us again this season. We're once again going to put him in the role of defending the really good perimeter players. He really relished that role a year ago and we're going to ask him to do it again this year. I want him to have an aggressive offensive mindset. He's too good of a shooter to be passing up shots and a key guy for us. I just love his toughness."
6-5 203 Guard
Senior Bowie, Md.
A second-team all-BIG EAST selection a year ago, Jerian Grant led the Irish in scoring at 13.3 points per game and 5.5 assists. Grant is the most talented and gifted player on the roster with the ability to score from the perimeter and drive to the basket. His talent's are unique as he is able to serve as a secondary ballhandler for the Irish. In fact, Grant had one more assist (194) than Atkins did a year ago.
Like Atkins, Grant logged heavy minutes as he averaged 36.3 minutes per game. Grant struggled at times with his shot from the perimeter, especially from three-point range as he connected on only 34.4 percent a year ago. The combination of Grant and Atkins gives the Irish one of the most versatile tandems in the country.
Brey on Grant:
"Jerian is such a key guy for us and many times he really stirs the drink for us. I want him attacking to start game and not dwell on his missed shots. It's going to be really important for him to be a more consistent day-to-day practice guy. Jerian knows that can be better at times and it is going to be up to me and Eric to challenge him."
6-1 195 Guard
Freshman Mishawaka, Ind.
One of the premier prep players at point guard in each of his final two seasons in high school, Demetrius Jackson is the 16th McDonald's All-American to play at Notre Dame. A first-team all-state honoree, he finished his scholastic career with 1,934 career points and was the all-time leading scorer at Marian High School and St. Joseph County. Jackson averaged 25.9 points in his season senior. He'll have the luxury of backing up Eric Atkins as a rookie and get a chance to really feel comfortable in the Irish system. Jackson is expected to see considerable playing time as a freshman.
He possesses tremendous quickness that has been rarely seen on the Irish roster and will be a player who is going to make plays on the court. Jackson has a very offensive and attacking mindset and can score from anywhere on the floor.
Brey on Jackson:
"I am really looking forward to coaching this young man over the next four years. He is a high-energy guy that is going to come off the bench and make things happen for us. He's a playmaker who will be good pressuring the ball for us on defense. Demetrius is at his best when he gets in the lane and makes plays. I want him to have an aggressive and attacking mindset when he is on the floor."
6-9 230 Forward
Sophomore Paris, France
Injuries sidelined Eric Katenda in his first season and the second-year player will start the 2013-14 campaign injured as well after undergoing surgery following a knee injury. He is likely to be sidelined for several weeks.
Katenda is an athletic frontline player with good size that will be able to help the Irish out on the backboard.
Brey on Katenda:
"I am pleased with the progress that Eric has made as he gets a better feel for our system. He has had some setbacks with injuries, but his athletic frame and body can really be an asset for us on the boards."
6-10 258 Forward
Graduate Student Dixfield, Maine
Tom Knight enjoyed his best season in an Irish uniform last season as he averaged 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. He played in 28 contests and started the last 16 games of the season. Knight was key for the Irish in the latter half of the year and Brey is hoping that he continues to play with the confidence he displayed as a starter.
Knight shot 48.9 percent from the field and has a deceptive outside shooting touch. He once again has positioned himself well to be a factor for the Irish in his final season in a Notre Dame uniform. Knight has a great feel for the game and is a crafty player underneath the basket.
Brey on Knight:
"I couldn't be more thrilled with how Tom played for us down the stretch last year. I want him to pick up where he left last year. The difference this year is that he is going to have to deliver for us for a season. Tom's confidence has waned at times and I don't want that to happen this year. He's too important for our success this year ."
6-11 255 Center
Graduate Student Kenton, Ohio
A fifth-year senior, Garrick Sherman is in his third year with the program. After sitting out the 2011-12 campaign after transferring from Michigan State, Sherman returned to the court for his first season in an Irish uniform a year ago and averaged 7.0 points, 3.4 rebounds while logging 15.6 minutes per game in 30 contests.
Sherman played well down the stretch for the Irish a year ago and his body in the middle is going to be important as Notre Dame searches for its frontline identity. He is good around the basket and shot 54.9 percent from the field a year ago. Sherman will need to become more of a rebounding threat for the Irish this season and take advantage of his size in the middle.
Brey on Sherman:
"I want Garrick to start the year off playing with a great deal of confidence. This is a guy who has played a lot of college basketball and I think that he's gotten through dwelling on his mistakes and bad games. He's hungry to deliver for us this year because he wasn't happy with how he played last year. I think it has motivated him because it is his last year of college basketball.
6-7 218 Forward
Freshman Granger, Ind.
Austin Torres joins the Irish as one of three first-year players from the state of Indiana and one of two local area products. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in September. Brey will likely work Torres into the lineup slowly. With many veteran players returning, he's probably a year away from seeing significant minutes.
Torres averaged 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds as a senior. He is an athletic player with a workmanlike attitude and is a strong defender and rebounder.
Brey on Torres:
"Austin is a great dirty work guy that every team needs. He rebounds, screens and blocks shots. I like the way he runs the floor and gets people open. What's great about him is that he understands that's the way we play at Notre Dame. He may not see a lot of playing time for us this year, but he is going to be valuable for us in the future when our older big guys graduate."
6-6 207 Guard
Freshman Medford, N.J.
An outstanding shooter, Brey expects the Steve Vasturia to have a great career at Notre Dame. He's as talented a shooter as the Irish have had in a while. Vasturia can make shots from anywhere on the floor and along the perimeter. He knows how to play the game and is easy to play with on the floor.
The two-time Catholic League Player of the Year averaged 20.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in his final scholastic campaign while also scoring 1,766 career points during his prep career. Vasturia has a chance to work his way into the lineup this season, but he certainly has a bright future ahead of him in an Irish uniform. With Notre Dame's depth at guard, it may be difficult for him to get significant minutes this season.
Brey on Vasturia:
"Steve plays much older than he actually is. Our guys love playing with him. He can make shots and does a little bit of everything. He knows how to play the game and is an underrated defender. Steve has a steadiness about him that allows him to have a veteran-feel for the game. He could be very valuable for us right away. I look forward to coaching this young man and watching his career develop."
2013-14 Preseason ACC Basketball Poll
2013-14 Preseason All-ACC Team
C.J. Fair - Syracuse
Joe Harris - Virginia
Rodney Hood - Duke
Jerian Grant - Notre Dame
Jabari Parker - Duke
2013-14 Preseason Player of the Year
C.J. Fair - Syracuse