Opportunity Knocks

Still-developing youth will serve as key pieces for the 2011-12 Irish.

Two months removed from the most successful Notre Dame basketball season in three decades, Irish head coach Mike Brey is suddenly tasked with posting the following classified ad for his 2011-12 basketball team:

Wanted: Interior defense, rebounding, the ability to hit open shots, high basketball IQ, leadership skills, athleticism, length, and approximately 30 games of Big East conference seasoning.

That's what the Irish lost with Carleton Scott's surprising (okay, "stunning," is the word. It was stunning) decision to forgo his 5th-season of eligibility and remain in the 2011 NBA draft.

Scott's departure, coupled with the expected (read: on time) exits of Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough, and versatile senior role player Tyrone Nash puts a damper on what, at least in this writer's mind, was shaping up as another surprisingly successful underdog season for Brey's always undervalued Irish.

"We lose a heck of a player; and a voice," Brey said of the void Scott left behind. "I talked to our team about that. It puts a lot on Abro (Tim Abromaitis) and Scott Martin but they're also older guys, and I think they're ready to help.

"I think it also opens the door – the same opportunity that Carleton had when Luke Harangody got hurt (in February 2010) just opened up for a couple of guys."

But who?

"I don't know who they are yet," Brey admitted before adding, "they don't even know who they are yet. They might not be on our campus yet; they might still be in high school. I think for us, maybe we'll be picked 10th or 11th now in the league instead of 7th or 8th, and we'll figure it out from there."

Brey's Irish have exceeded their official pre-season slotting (determined by a vote of league coaches) in four of the last five seasons. Picked 7th last year, the Irish enjoyed their best Big East season to date, finishing second to league champion Pittsburgh, a sterling (again, better word choice would be, "shocking") league record of 14-4.

A basketball program built around veteran leadership must suddenly turn its attention to untested, or at least unproven parts.

"We lose that shot-blocker back there," Brey said of Scott. "We hadn't had that long, rangy guy (of late) and he covered up so much stuff. He also played great post defense; defensive rebounding…he could erase things. And his basketball IQ and feel for moving guys around – he was really good at moving the ball on the floor and he did so very unselfishly.

"Jack Cooley becomes really important, though he was going to be anyway," Brey continued of his junior center and the team's second (and generally, last) player off the bench last season. "And Eric Katenda becomes really important with that length," said Brey of the incoming freshman who chose the Irish in a recent recruiting battle with Wake Forest. "He has the similar body type to Carleton and I feel he can play right away for us. I feel he's ready to play as a younger guy."

The Irish will begin camp in October with the following pieces in place:

*Knight had surgery in mid-April to repair a broken bone in his foot
**Broghammer had surgery in mid-February to repair a partially torn right patellar tendon. He then added a March surgery to repair the same issue in his left knee.
***Grant was withheld from action last season as a freshman due to a lingering stress reaction from a high school foot injury, but unlike Knight (out until August 1 according to Brey) and Broghammer, Grant has purportedly been at full strength for several months.

11 and counting

Scott's Sunday morning decision ranks as the lead story of Notre Dame's off-season, especially since the other "story" was more media speculation than legitimate business conversation.

Brey's widely reported dalliance with the then-vacant Maryland coaching job served two purposes: a moment of true flattery for the Irish head coach and longtime Terrapins fan…and a Kentucky Derby dampening distraction last Saturday afternoon during Brey's family getaway.

"How about that drama?" Brey joked of his role in the rumor mill. "There's definitely not as much drama (as indicated)…talk about ruining my Derby weekend."

"Maryland holds a special place in my heart in that half of my family graduated from there, and my wife's family," Brey noted. "But I never interviewed with them and it never got (past) an inquiry, because I feel so good about the momentum of our program. We've worked 11 years to get in this position; we feel we have really good momentum, I like where our recruiting is.

"I'm honored to have ND next to my name and you've heard me say many times, ‘I like being in the Big East'…I should have my head examined for saying that, but I like it and we have a niche in that league."

Apparently Brey never seriously considered Maryland's initial inquiry.

"There really wasn't much to it other than speculation from down there and I understand that with a coaching search," he said. "When you go to the Maryland basketball camp at 10 years old, and kind of grew up around Maryland basketball and (ex-head coach) Lefty Driesell…it tugs at your heart a little bit, but my feeling was I didn't need to meet with anybody because I knew where my frame of mind was with this.

"I'm flattered that they would inquire. But that's kind of where it ended."

2011-12 will be Brey's 12th season at the school. Irish fans (and detractors) can expect many more.

"I told our guys last night, I've been here 11 years: people have inquired and reached out and I have not interviewed for another job. I think that (shows he's) locked in here…this has kind of become your program (with) your identity on it. It takes a lot of work to get it to that point, and I feel in the last four to five years we may have found some different avenues, to (advance) further in all of these tournaments.

"I've been thrilled working with (athletics director) Jack Swarbrick. He's energized me; he came at a good time. And I love coaching the kind of kids I get here. That's not lost on me, the kind of young man you get to work with everyday.

"We have a lot invested here in this community and this place. This is home."


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