Notre Dame basketball freshmen a cut above
That's the way it has seemed through the early stages of the Notre Dame men's basketball practice for freshmen Zach Auguste, Cameron Biedscheid, Austin Burgett and Eric Katenda. Adjusting to the ways of the Irish basketball world has meant learning a whole new language, and hearing words that rarely were part of their vocabulary as high school hot-shots.
"Feeding the post is a real key thing in our offense," said Irish coach Mike Brey.
Once the group got those words down, it was on to phrases they will hear constantly in every practice.
Trust your teammate.
Swing the ball.
When in doubt, cut.
The last one is new to even Brey's lexicon, something he just happened to say while speaking at a coaching clinic earlier this month at the University of Indianapolis. Counseling a veteran group of Indianapolis players, Brey kept his message simple -- when in doubt, cut.
"That's one I think we have to come back to," he said. "We really added cutting in our offense the last couple years and that's helped us. Guys really get it."
While the Irish veterans have often been left to do what they do best early this preseason, Brey has made it a point and a priority to spend a few moments during each workout with the new guys, either individually or as a group. Several teaching moments often surface during a certain drill or scrimmage situation.
One recent segment required two defensive players to deny two offensive players good scoring position while playing halfcourt defense. On Saturday, the second day of practice, Burgett and Katenda were paired against Auguste and Biedscheid. After one rotation through the drill, Brey gathered the group for a quick word before sending all of them back through the sequence a second time.
"That is a drill that is really important for them, yes for defensive position but more so for learning how to talk, learning the communication in our system," Brey said. "Just trying to help them and reinforce and teach them."
While the freshmen have tried to digest all the information thrown their way, Brey has learned something in watching them work. Auguste and Biedscheid play with high levels of energy and athleticism -- Biedscheid on the perimeter and Auguste underneath. That has allowed Brey to ponder putting them in the game at the same time as subs.
Senior center Garrick Sherman is entrenched as the sixth man -- the first Irish in off the bench. But Brey sees a scenario where Auguste and Biedscheid are sent to the scorer's table together as seventh men.
"Here they come off the bench together," Brey said. "They both give a different kind of spark."
Tuesday wraps the second day of two two-a-day workouts for the Irish before Brey takes Jack Cooley and Scott Martin to New York and Wednesday's Big East media day. With school on fall break, Brey also plans to give the Irish the weekend off. For many, it will be their final chance until Christmas to go home and think of something other than basketball for a few days.
Even with a break in the practice schedule nearing, Brey wants his team to remain engaged in the early-season process.
"I said, 'You can't string wins together until you string good practices together,'" he said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Can this group string a week of really good stuff? That's what we've got to do first."
Anything but stale
Last week's unofficial start to the college basketball season meant sitting through a sixth and final media day for Irish veteran Scott Martin, now considered the program's resident old guy. Yet even after all these years -- one at Purdue and the last five at Notre Dame -- Martin insists it's relatively easy to maintain a fresh perspective heading into another long season.
"It's just how much I love playing this game," he said. "It's all I've known since I was a little kid. Every year around this time, you start to get excited and start to mark the days off on the calendar."
Officially classified as a graduate student, Martin admitted that this year was the first time in his extended collegiate career that the time before the first official practice seemed to drag. A day seemed like five. A week seemed like a month.
"I don't know why," he said. "Maybe because I'm looking so forward to the year."
Give it up
Irish sophomore swingman Pat Connaughton said good-bye this weekend to an old buddy, something he won't see again on a regular basis until sometime in the spring.
A right-handed pitcher on the Irish baseball team, Connaughton planned to participate in Friday's intrasquad doubleheader. Afterward, under terms of an agreement with his hoops head coach, he turned in his glove to Brey, who promised to stash it somewhere inside his office desk drawer.
"He keeps it, puts it away," Connaughton said. "After that, it's all basketball."
There are exceptions. Last February, the 6-foot-5, 212-pound Connaughton registered the only double-double of his career with 23 points and 11 rebounds, both team-highs, in a 76-59 afternoon victory at home over Marquette. That night, he pitched off a mound at the Loftus Center during a team workout.
Connaughton had little idea what he was getting into last fall prior to playing both sports. In basketball he was one of three Irish to appear in all 34 games. He made 18 starts and averaged 7.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 24.1 minutes. In baseball, Connaughton appeared in 12 games with 10 starts. He was 4-4 with a 3.18 earned run average, 40 strikeouts and 21 walks in 45.1 innings.
"First time through it, I had to feel it out," he said. "I really didn't get tired. It's something I chose to do. It's something I knew coming in was going to be tough (but) it's something I love to do."
Staff writer Tom Noie: