Oct. 14, 2014 NOTRE DAME, Ind. – As Notre Dame players and coaches huddled in a cramped and crowded locker room in Vicenza, Italy in mid-August following the final game of their foreign tour, many that night were already looking ahead to October and the start of practice for the 2014-15 season.
Yes, the Irish had won each of their four contests in Italy in resounding fashion. But, more important for Brey and his coaching staff than the wins, was the opportunity to bring back teaching points from the trip that he could focus on once the squad returned to the court for practice in the fall. While the Irish left Italy with great memories, they also came back to campus with great momentum. The timing of the trip could not have been more advantageous for Brey and his squad.
“I said it back when we scheduled this trip and returned from Italy, this [trip] could not have come at a better time for us,” Brey says. “After the disappointment of last season, we needed to feel good about ourselves again. I think that the foreign tour gave us the opportunity to be productive in our practices and successful in our games. Those contests provided us with some great teaching points.”
When practice officially commenced for the Irish on Friday, Oct. 3, Brey had a starting point for his group. With nine practices already in the books, the 15th-year head coach is encouraged by what has transpired from his team over the past 10 days.
“When you look at all we did this summer leading up to the trip to Italy and then playing those game, we have been able to start off very quickly, perhaps faster than we are accustomed to this early in the season,” Brey says. “It’s very evident that we have a lot of guys who are going to be competing for playing time this season. There was a healthy competition for playing time in Italy, thanks to our depth, and that has carried over into our preseason practices. I like our mindset and where we are at right now.
“The trip really benefitted this particular group. It helped our freshmen get acquainted with our style of play, and enabled some of our returnees to get more comfortable with our system.”
Notre Dame’s three freshmen — forwards Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben and guard Matt Farrell — have left little doubt on the impact they could have this season and in the future. Since the trio arrived on campus in June for the start of summer school, it’s been all business for them.
“Our freshmen have been ready to compete from day one,” Brey says. “The practices and games have really benefitted them. They know and understand our routine and that’s helped their confidence.”
While the practices and contests have certainly proved beneficial for Colson, Farrell and Geben, they also have served as a springboard for juniors Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett, as well as sophomores Demetrius Jackson and V.J. Beachem.
No two individuals played better in Italy than Auguste and Jackson, and since the start of practice, the duo has continue to be effective at both ends of the floor, picking up where they left off in August.
“Both Demetrius and Zach needed to play well during the summer and I am proud of how they have handled their business,” Brey says. “They were very productive and very ready to compete. That has been a real positive for us in the preseason. Demetrius and Zach are both playing with a great deal of confidence right now. I love their mindsets and demeanor.”
An uncharacteristic number of turnovers and the inability to take care of the basketball at times became somewhat of a concern for Brey in Italy. It is something that he has addressed with his backcourt tandem of Jackson and Jerian Grant in the preseason.
Thanks to his perimeter shooting and athleticism around the basket, the continued improvement of Beachem is a focus for Brey. While in Italy, Beachem demonstrated the ability to come off the bench and make shots from the perimeter. He’s quickly emerging as a player who could be a big part of the Irish offense this season.
Colson’s rebounding also has caught the eye of Brey. As he showed during the 10 days of the foreign tour, Colson can hunt down rebounds. He is at his best when he is around the basket.
“V.J. continues to make big strides for us,” Brey says. “I’ve been impressed with how he played this summer and what he has done thus far in the preseason. Bonzie is really rebounding the ball well for us and was our top rebounder in three of our first seven practices.”
Brey focused Monday’s practice on looking at in-game situations and scenarios his Irish team is likely to face during the season, a departure from the five-on-five drills of the first seven sessions.
With midterm tests and tests looming this week, Notre Dame will take Tuesday off and then return to the court for a short practice on Wednesday before taking part in the team’s annual media day.
Brey will bring in referees on Thursday for a two-hour scrimmage. At that time, he will get the opportunity to evaluate his players’ conditioning as well as utilize different lineup combinations on the court.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing where we are as a team right now during that scrimmage and to analyze the combinations that work well together,” Brey says. “I want to see the comfort level our guys have playing together and how different lineups are working.”
Following a 6:30 a.m. practice on Friday (Oct. 17), Brey will give his team four days off for October break before the team reconvenes for a 6:00 pm practice on Oct. 22.