First steps, then The Dance

Notre Dame begins a new era in its basketball history with its foray into the ACC. Mike Brey's mixture of veteran returnees and potential future stars among his intriguing freshmen and sophomore classes has the arrow pointing up for the head coach's 14th season at the helm.

Mike Brey wasn't planning on dodging the question, but he wasn't ready to embrace it, either.

With five returning starters and two more key contributors from last winter in tow for his 2013-14 Irish, the Notre Dame head coach had no interest in immediately extolling the virtues of prized freshman prospect and hometown hero, Demetrius Jackson.

There'll be plenty of time for that over the next five months and four seasons.

"I was not going to answer a Demetrius Jackson question until about the fifth one, so this is good, perfect," Brey joked of the sixth question he received on Notre Dame's media day. "He adds a lot of energy for us.

"I think right now he defers a little too much to the older guys. But there's an energy that he gives, the ability to pressure the ball defensively when he gets in the game, the ability to get to the lane. He's going to get fouled a lot throughout his career here so there's some juice here in another gear that we haven't really had in this program in a long, long time."

What the program has had over six of the last seven seasons, and for the bulk of the 13-game Brey era, is consistency.

Notre Dame wins often from November through mid-March. Then they don't.

Brey is first rightfully concerned with his team's initial steps, not it's last dance next March.

"I haven't really thought about it (NCAA tournament success). I probably would've thought about it more if we weren't getting in a new league," Brey said of his program's foray into the Athletic Coast Conference. "I'm totally distracted and engaged and our goal and we talked about it this morning in practice and you'll hear it from our guys.

"Let's on Selection Sunday make sure you ask that question and I hope we're in a position where, we got a bid, here's our seed, here's where we're going, and we'll think about it more then. I think you can overanalyze that until the cows come home and I haven't talked anything about it.

"I think it's been a great motivator for our guys how poorly we played against Iowa State through the summer," said Brey of 76-58 (and it wasn't that close) opening game defeat in the 2013 Tournament) It's put a little chip on their shoulder that a pretty good regular season kind of got diminished with how we got smacked in Dayton." two?

Of the aforementioned seven contributors that return from his 25-win squad, Brey noted immediately six of them.

"When you start with three perimeter guys like we have, that's a pretty darn good place to start," he said of seniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and junior Pat Connaughton. "Three guys that will kind of be starting together for the third year and they've won a lot together.

"Then you add two fifth-year seniors, in (Tom) Knight and (Garrick) Sherman, and you add (sophomore) Zach Auguste, who I feel is kind of an experienced guy with how he finished the season, it kind of gives you six men that have been through the battles, and we certainly have a lot to pick from as we figure out who joins those six with our depth."

Jackson is certain to join that sextet. Assumed included is swingman Cam Biedscheid, a 6'7" sophomore that can fill it up in bunches, but one who continues to assimilate to a team-oriented college program -- on both ends of the floor.

"Cam's had a really good summer, and he needed to have a big summer. He's made progress, he's gotten stronger," said Brey. "I think with Cam, it's always been, 'Are you easy to play with? Are you easier to play with?' Knowing what a good shot is and having more of a defensive presence.

"All improvement in those areas. But when you look at the perimeter guys we've got, you got a dogfight when you're looking for minutes when you talk about the three starters, there's a lot of potential there with some of the young guys."

Biedscheid's emergence from that pack will likely be based on his improvement on the defensive end.

"He knows for him to get on the floor and be part of things, he can't be a weak link on that end of the court, and I think that's been drilled into his frame of mind," Brey said. "WIth his quickness of foot he can stay in front of people. He can also get out and play in passing lanes with his length. But I think it's something we'll continue to have to hammer home with him and for him to understand, to stay out there, you're going to have to do it on that end.

"He's had some really good practices with us where he has scored the ball. I never want to lose sight of that 'microwave presence' he can bring off the bench. He's really good at putting numbers on the board quickly -- if we need that."

Turnovers to turn it around?

What the Irish regularly need is more perimeter quickness and the benefits that elusive skill set would bring to South Bend. Enter Mr. Jackson.

"The ability to pressure the ball, I don't think he could do that all the time in high school because he had to play the whole game, he couldn't wear himself out," said Brey of Jackson. "We're going to be able to allow him to do that. That's one thing he can bring right away and he loves to do it.

"I played him a lot with Grant and Atkins on the perimeter and those three guys have a lot of fun together because you have three quick guys that can contest and pressure the ball more than we've ever done here. And also can run the floor, get out in transition."

Notre Dame's first McDonald's All-American since Chris Thomas in 2001, Jackson too has ample room for improvement as he evolves rom one-man show at nearby Mishawaka, Marian High School to a three-man rotation in an ACC backcourt.

"He's starting to be a little more vocal as he knows our system," Brey offered, adding, "He has to get better. He was a high school player last year. As much as everybody is excited about him, and I'm as excited as anybody, there's going to be days where he really looks like a freshman. But we're really patient with him.

"Pretty much I want to stay on the floor, so I'm doing whatever I can to stay on the floor," Jackson said. "The coaches are guiding me through the things I need to know. In terms of bringing energy and creating some steals on the defensive end, the ball's right there, why not go take it?

"Getting up and really defending our man. I feel like that's something we can really do this year with our lineup and the athleticism of our team," Jackson continued. "I feel like we can really get up and pressure the ball and cause some turnovers."

A change that might elicit another by mid-March. Top Stories