Sept. 26, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – This Friday afternoon won’t be a typical Friday afternoon in September for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team. Normally at this time of the year, especially on a football weekend, those days have been reserved for winding down from a week of classes, study hall, conditioning and pickup games.
In most instances, players might found taking a nap or partaking in the festivities and traditions that are part of a football weekend for any Notre Dame student.
But this Friday will be a little for Irish players and coaches as Sept. 27 marks the first official start of the 2013-14 campaign. How does it seem possible? Has the summer really ended? Didn’t the football season just get started?
Thanks to new NCAA legislation approved by the Division I Board of Directors in May 2013, men’s basketball teams are allowed to move up the start of their practices by two weeks. The rule change permits teams to conduct 30 days of practice before their first regular-season contest. In the past, practice began roughly four weeks prior to the first game.
Senior point guard Eric Atkins, part of a veteran Irish team that returns four starters, has somewhat mixed feelings on the early starting date for practice. “I have to admit that for me personally, I have somewhat mixed reviews about starting practice earlier,” Atkins says. “Being that I am older guy on the team, I have to think about my body and pacing myself.
“I do think it’s great for the younger guys on our team, especially the freshmen. The fact that they get the opportunity to practice with us more and learn our players earlier and get used to how we play is only going to be more beneficial to them and to us.”
The rule creates a more flexible preseason practice schedule that allows practice days and off days instead of the current schedule that leads to practice occurring every day possible within a 20-hour week limit.
But don’t expect 14-year head coach Mike Brey to have his players on the court for 20 hours per week. For a coach whose philosophy during the season always has been predicated on the adage `it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Brey will likely hold 90-minute practices twice a week for the next couple of weeks.
“I think the way Coach Brey is going to pace us will be great for our team,” Atkins says. ” We are going to be able to go as hard as we can in these practices. We are going to be able to go as hard as we can in these practices and not have to worry about getting too tired for the next day. Coach always does a great job of managing our bodies, so I am not really worried about it.”
Adkins also is not concerned about the mental preparation of he and his teammates.
“It’s really not going to be that different starting early,” Atkins says. “We’ve known about this change in the practice start date since the beginning of the summer so we’ve been ready for it. I think it’s good that we’re done with pickup games and now have the opportunity to be out there with our coaches.”
Since being on campus for six weeks in the summer with the returnees and freshmen for summer school, Atkins has been greatly impressed by the maturity of the freshmen and the great strides that his sophomore classmates have made as well.
“The freshmen have been really great since getting here to campus,” Atkins says. “They’ve been really mature and handled their business. I’m really proud of our sophomores as well as they have worked hard to get bigger and stronger.”
Atkins has had a lot to think about since the disappointing 76-58 loss to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Dayton, Ohio. He’s had the chance to reflect on what that game after such a great regular season that saw the Irish win 25 games, matching the second-most in the Brey era. One thing he knows for sure is that he and his teammates need to be better and tougher mentally as a team.
“I don’t think we were ready to play that game mentally, Atkins recalls. “This summer I think we’ve all done a great job of getting ourselves to be stronger mentally. That game against Iowa State was such a disappointing way to end our season; we didn’t cap it off at all in the way that we wanted to. I don’t think anyone on our team can say that they played their best game or gave their best effort.”
Atkins does know that his leadership this year will prevent those situations during the upcoming campaign.
“I have to and will do a better job of leading in those situations,” Atkins says. “The game could have changed early on and I should have been the one to grab us and fix us mentally
“This year, I think I feel more comfortable in the leadership role and getting on guys when I need to. This is my team and everyone looks to me to be the leader. I am going to be the one who has to deliver.”