Notre Dame's Burgett catching coaches' attention
One reason for the clutter stems from freshmen who might carry inflated ideas about their places in the program. They should play this amount of minutes, have that big of a role or score so many points with so many shots every night.
Such is not the case for Notre Dame freshman Austin Burgett heading into the team's final exhibition game Friday against Division II NAIA Cardinal Stritch.
Burgett prefers to play as much as possible, but also understands that the transition from high school hot-shot to college contributor is a process.
"I know I'm not the best player out there right now but I'm trying to work toward that," he said. "I'm just trying to be the best that I can. I'll do whatever."
Working as a reserve during Monday's exhibition opener for the first time since he was a high school freshman, the Avon, Ind., native watched and waited for his number to be called. When it was, Burgett simply tried to keep it simple -- rebound, defend, set a screen, move the ball, cut, dive for another on the floor, rotate over and block a shot as the Irish rolled to a 111-52 victory.
"When you get called on, you go in and do whatever you can to help the team," Burgett said. "Everyone knows you're a freshman, but you can go out there and play as hard as you can and do whatever you can. It doesn't always have to be scoring.
"Little things all add up."
If everyone remained healthy this preseason, the numbers in terms of minutes likely would not add up in Burgett's favor. Heading into fall camp, Irish coach Mike Brey admitted there was a chance that Burgett, who arrived on campus at 6-foot-9, 214 pounds, might sit out his first season to preserve a year of eligibility and get stronger, get older and get better. As the 10th man in a rotation that seldom extends past eight, there would not be enough available minutes for him to make it worthwhile.
That thinking has since changed, for two reasons.
Fellow freshman power forward Zach Auguste, who had earned a spot ahead of Burgett, lost a chunk of valuable practice time the last 10 days after suffering his second sprained ankle of preseason. With Auguste ailing, Burgett delivered a recent stretch of practices that caught the attention of coaches and teammates.
He played with confidence. He rebounded. He led the Irish in blocked shots. He even had a few moments when he out-hustled everyone in a gold (starter's) practice jersey for follow-up dunks.
"He's really been bouncy," Brey said. "He's been an interesting guy to evaluate the last five days."
That's a drastic departure from the first five days Burgett spent in the program this summer. Admittedly nervous and uncertain of his place, it took him time to understand the pace of the game at the collegiate level -- it just moved so much quicker than high school. He looked lost during the first few summer pickup games and also had to get past the odd concept that the guys he watched last year back in Avon go 22-12 and 13-5 in the Big East -- Eric Atkins, Jack Cooley, etc. -- were now teammates.
"At first, you're nervous, like, 'Wow, I see these guys on TV all the time and now I'm a part of it,'" Burgett said. "Confidence just comes. It's something you find down the road."
Burgett found it with the help of sixth-year veteran and fellow Indiana native Scott Martin. Anytime Burgett had a question or concern, Martin was there with a reassuring word or helpful hint. The more Burgett listened to Martin, the more confident he became in his game, in his place.
Martin sees a different Burgett than the one who arrived in June.
"I think he now understands he can play at this level and play with this group," Martin said. "We knew he knew how to play right away. You could see that. It was just getting used to our system and how we play.
"He's made leaps and bounds the last couple months."
It showed Monday. Though he played the fewest minutes of any available scholarship player -- nine -- Burgett offered four points on two dunks, three rebounds, a block and a steal.
"I felt pretty comfortable," he said. "I didn't feel like I was out of place or anything."
So much so that Brey likely will reconsider next week the possibility of Burgett and the five-year plan. The Irish have held back the likes of Tim Abromaitis, Jerian Grant, Tom Knight and Carleton Scott in recent seasons, all for one main reason -- they weren't ready to compete at the highest level at that early point in their careers.
That's where this situation strays. Burgett is all for following the same five-year plan if the staff believes it's best for him, but he's shown something those guys did not during their younger days.
"He really knows how to play," Brey said. "He's easy to play with."
Staff writer Tom Noie: