By TOM NOIE - Follow me @tnoie
South Bend Tribune
7:10 PM EDT, October 24, 2012
Ankles and offseasons have not been a good mix for Notre Dame senior power forward Tom Knight.
Expected to make a jump into the rotation following a 27-7 Irish season in 2010-11, the 6-10, 258-pound Knight suffered a serious right ankle injury in the spring of 2011. It required surgery and multiple pins to help it heal. The injury kept him out all summer and forced him to play catch-up in getting back into the minutes mix for 2011-12.
Knight played in 30 of 34 games with a career-high three starts. He averaged 2.9 points and 1.5 rebounds. He shot 50.7 percent from the floor and 60.9 percent from the free throw line in 8.9 minutes per game.
"Coming off the ankle injury, I really wasn't that confident, but as the season went on, I started building and doing the right things and that confidence came around," Knight said. "I just felt like I should be out there and could help."
As last season wound down, few Irish were as good in practice as Knight. He had four points and two assists and was a much-needed physical presence in nine minutes against Xavier in the second-round NCAA tournament game.
"He got us back in the Xavier game with some of the plays he made," said Irish coach Mike Brey.
Looking to build on that effort and considered a seventh starter last summer by Brey, Knight suffered a high left ankle sprain early in the school year when he stepped on the foot of fellow big man Garrick Sherman during a pickup game. He missed five weeks.
"Typical ankle injuries," Knight said. "I'm fine now."
Perhaps, but he's still dealing with the occasional injury. Knight recently missed four days of practice with back spasms. He returned Monday with what Brey believes was his best practice. During Tuesday's open workout at the Kroc Center, Knight ran the floor with ease, rebounded and scored when given the opportunity. Days like that reinforce Brey's belief that Knight can be counted on.
"Tom's been in there," he said. "He's done it for us."
Sherman remains entrenched as the sixth man while freshmen Zach Auguste and Cameron Biedscheid show a little more each day why they deserve meaningful minutes. When everyone's healthy, Brey will have the tricky task of finding enough minutes for four post players.
"Maybe one will be odd man out at times," he said. "But through the next five months, we're going to need them all."
Knight can return for a fifth year in 2013-14, but he doesn't plan to return to what has been his residence at the end of the bench for another winter.
"I just have to keep working and try to prove every day I should be out there," he said. "I have to show Coach I'm willing to do the work that he wants me to do."
Brothers in arms
When the Irish football team rushed to a corner of Spartan Stadium to celebrate a big win in mid-September with fans that made the trip, he was right there to offer applause.
The following week in Notre Dame's emotional night win over Michigan, he was again in the front row wearing a lei in support of classmate Manti Te'o to go with his trademark smile. When Notre Dame traveled to Chicago to face Miami (Fla.) so did he.
Irish senior swingman Joey Brooks counts at least 30 Irish football players as friends, and no one on campus may be more anxious to see No. 5 Notre Dame in Saturday's prime-time showdown at No. 8 Oklahoma than No. 32 on the men's basketball team.
"I couldn't be happier for those guys to be successful," he said. "It makes it very easy to cheer for them in their respective arena.
"Supporting them is really cool."
Brooks believes he's just returning the favor after some of the football guys offered support last season for the Irish basketball team. Following the upset of previously-undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse, the Irish student body stormed the court at Purcell Pavilion. The first wave to swarm Brooks included quarterback Tommy Rees, tight end Tyler Eifert and offensive lineman Zack Martin.
Late in the year with the Irish closing in on a second-consecutive double-bye in the Big East championship, offensive guard Mike Golic and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore were regulars in the front row along the baseline near the visitors' bench.
"It's just really about Notre Dame as a place and how close everyone is a community," Brooks said. "It's really special."
Entrenched in their third week of preseason practice, the Irish have had to work through several injuries. Auguste and junior guard Eric Atkins missed time this week with sprained ankles. With the first exhibition opener Monday, Brey prefers to keep to a practice plan he believes works best for this team.
"To learn how to play together, you've got to play together," he said. "You've got to do a lot of five-on-five. That's what we've done in our system."
Practices that include a heavy dosage of scrimmaging, Brey believes, has helped a newcomer like Biedscheid quickly learn where his skills and his shots fit in the system.
"He's understanding, 'With Eric and Jerian (Grant), here's where I get my shot,'" Brey said. "'When I post feed Jack Cooley....' I want to keep doing a lot of that."
Staff writer Tom Noie:
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