Sep 27, 2013, 9:01 PM EDT
At first, today seemed just like any other football Friday. Fans from all over the country were coming to Notre Dame for the football game tomorrow, the band was practicing for a final time together and the football team was doing their final walkthroughs. However, this particular Friday was extra special because the Notre Dame men’s basketball team had their first official practice this afternoon.
The new NCAA rule change allows college basketball programs to start practicing two weeks earlier than they were allowed to in previous years, giving teams 30 days of practice prior to competition. Fifth-year senior Tom Knight is excited about the change.
“It gives us the opportunity to find out who our team is earlier than previous years,” Knight says. “It gives the young guys a chance to learn the system earlier and that’s really good.”
Senior point guard Eric Atkins was a little wary about practicing this early at first, but now he says, “After having this first practice, I feel great about it.”
In this first practice, head coach Mike Brey stressed three big things right off the bat: Communication, ball movement and defense. At the beginning of the practice, the team did drills where these three points were stressed.
Tom Knight added that another key to success is playing together. “Trusting each other and playing as one unit is equally important to the things that Coach Brey said,” stated Knight.
Surprisingly, the Irish looked in mid-season form today. Where some teams might be taking the first couple practices easy in order to shake off the cobwebs of the off season, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame were making sharp cuts to the basket, pinpoint passes and taking good, clean shots around the three-point line. One player who really stood out for me today was senior guard Jerian Grant. Making basically every shot he took from the arc, he definitely seemed comfortable putting the ball up and being an outside threat.
In addition to the offense, the coaches made a big effort to focus on the defensive-end of the court. Working with the players to make sure they kept good form and stayed in front of the man they were covering was one of areas they worked on, while another was defensive rebounding. With the loss of all-BIG EAST big man Jack Cooley, the team is going to need to figure out who on the roster is going to step up and be that rebounder underneath to crash the boards. Sophomore forward Zach Auguste is one who, Atkins says, fans should look out for to do just that. “I think Zach is gonna do a big job stepping up being that big presence inside.”
This focus on defense will be a key to success for the Irish in the long run in order to stop the behemoths of the Atlantic Coast Conference. People are concerned how the team will perform in their first year with a new conference. Yet Atkins is undeterred. “[the ACC] fits us well with the way we play so I’m really excited to get started,” said Atkins.
With four talented starters returning and a dynamic group of freshmen added to the fold, Irish faithful can rest assured that Notre Dame will be able to compete with teams such as Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. When asked about joining a new conference in his final year with the team, Tom Knight jubilantly said, “It’s exciting being able to go to gyms I’ve never been to before and even states I’ve never been to before. It’s a new chance to start a new legacy.”
The chance to start a new legacy will begin January 4th, 2014 as the Duke Blue Devils come to town to play the Irish in their first ACC game. Notre Dame continues with their practice schedule Tuesday afternoon as they strive to be prepared mentally and physically for their season opener against Miami of Ohio on November 8th.
If the team follows Coach Brey’s three keys to success – communication, ball movement and defense – opponents won’t know what hit them when the Irish come to their building to play.
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