Irish basketball coach Mike Brey has an outstanding squad returning for this season. Led by seniors Chris Thomas and Jordan Cornette, the Irish have plenty of depth and experience to make a run at the BIG EAST title. Four starters return, and plenty more talent will be added to the mix for this season.
Brey had a hard time holding back his excitement at Monday's press conference.
"You get excited about this season all summer because you have a group that's been together for a while and it really doesn't happen much in college basketball," said Brey. "That does give you cause for excitement."There's a lot of right pieces here. More important probably than me understanding it, those 10 guys understand that as far as seizing the moment."
Brey says he also expects to see all 10 of his scholarship players to contribute this season.
"With 10 guys, and the 10 guys we have, they will all get a shot at this thing before it's over," Brey said. "They'll tell me how many are going to play. They'll let me know."
The Irish didn't have 10 players that could contribute last season, but they have plenty of talent that will be setting on the bench when the five starters take the floor. Brey says he's excited about what some of talent that was sitting on the bench last season.
"I like some of the options sitting next to me," Brey said. "Some of those guys that were in street clothes are in uniforms now. You look down there at the end of the year and two of the best…three of them were in street clothes—Francis, Latimore and Isreal were in street clothes. You certainly have more options."
Many think the Irish will go as far as senior guard and scoring sensation Chris Thomas takes them. Brey said while Thomas isn't 100 percent, he feels he's ready to take an even bigger role this season.
"I think you have a guy who really has a lot of energy," said Brey. "I think he'd hope ‘Big Monday' is next Monday. I need to pace him because it is a long season and he's not 100 percent. I think he's very focused on his team having a heck of a year, which is where his mind needs to be.
"I think he's really ready to be a team captain," Brey said of Thomas. "He's been a captain at times, on the floor, certain games; he's never had to be the guy on a day to day basis. I think he wants that responsibility."
The Irish should have more scoring threats this season, and that should help Thomas as he's had to be counted on to score far too often.
"He's back to having some weapons as a guard to get others involved," Brey said. "At the end of last year, that always wasn't there. Like in Fort Wayne, there wasn't much help so go ahead and do it. I don't think he has to do that as much, and I think he realizes that.
"Having said that, there will always be times when we let him loose. I don't want to take everything away from him because he can create some things for us."
"The game does not come as easy to him in the low post as it does Dennis Latimore—from an offensive standpoint and making a move," Brey said of Francis. "To have another guy, to play off of, to get to the backboard, to get second shots, to be a screener, and then to run the floor, it takes a little heat off him."
The Irish are hoping to have talented junior Rick Cornett back very soon from injury. The 6-8 forward stepped up at the end of the season and became another force to be reckoned with when Francis was sidelined due to injury.
"I think he's hungrier," Brey said of Rick Cornett. "The stress fracture set him back. Coming off the season, at the end where we needed him and he responded, that motivates a young man to get in the weight room and do more on his own, and he did all that.
"I think when we get him into game shape he'll be back in it. Quite frankly, he's probably tired of hearing about Francis and Latimore all the time, good."
Another player to watch out for this season is sophomore forward Omari Isreal. The buzz about Isreal has been loud even though he sat out his freshman year with an injury.
"Isreal, he has probably made the biggest leap of anybody improvement-wise in every phase--maturity, I'm really happy with how he's stepped forward conditioning," Brey said of the talented sophomore.
The Irish fell short of expectations last year, not making the NCCA tournament and having to settle for the NIT. Brey said he's talked with his squad about their expectations for this season.
"I've talked to our guys about that," Brey said. "I said ‘Tom and Torian, for example, always experienced the NCAA tournament.' And I said ‘you can never get into a comfort zone assuming it's just going to happen.' It's not etched in stone. It's got to be earned."
Many expect this season to be a season to remember. Brey certainly showed enthusiasm on Monday about his squad's potential. With talent and experience, this Irish team could be making some noise this year in the BIG EAST.