April 11, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – “An Evening With Notre Dame Basketball” provided a fitting conclusion on Wednesday evening (April 11) to one of the most surprising seasons in the 107-year history of the Notre Dame basketball program.
Captains Tim Abromaitis (Unionville, Conn.) and Scott Martin (Valparaiso, Ind.) were the recipients of the evening’s two top awards as Abromaitis earned the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award for the third consecutive year, while Martin was named the winner of the Notre Dame Monogram Club MVP Award.
Both Abromaitis and Martin were double award winners on the night. Abromaitis also received the Captains’ Award, while Martin took home the Defensive Player of the Year honor. Junior Jack Cooley (Glenview, Ill.) was the recipient of the Most Improved Player award and sophomore backcourt mates Eric Atkins (Columbia, Md.) and Jerian Grant (Bowie, Md.) were honored with the Outstanding Playmaker and Newcomer of the Year awards, respectively.
This was an evening in which the Notre Dame basketball coaches, players and fans gathered for one final time in celebration of the 2011-12 campaign. This special one-of-a-kind evening began with a change in format from past postseason basketball events. Those in attendance were treated to an all-access tour of the Irish basketball facilities, including the men’s basketball locker room, team room, coaches’ offices, auditorium and “The Pit” during the evening. Coaches and players were stationed at various locales and fans had the opportunity to talk with each member of the team, pose for pictures and get autographs throughout the tour.
The ’11-’12 basketball campaign proved to be one of the most enjoyable in Notre Dame history as the Irish finished with a final 22-12 record and 13-5 mark in BIG EAST play (good for third place in the final conference regular-season standings). Notre Dame became one of the surprise stories of the season considering the youth of this year’s team and circumstances of the season. Following the departure of three starters from last year’s record-setting 27-7 year, the Irish’s chances of an NCAA tournament return were dealt a severe blow when preseason first-team all-BIG EAST pick Abromaitis tore his ACL in late November and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Notre Dame headed into the BIG EAST season with an 8-5 record, and following its first six league contests, the Irish were 11-8 overall and 3-3 in the league. Brey’s squad stunned the college basketball world when Notre Dame knocked off top-ranked and undefeated Syracuse, 67-58, at home. The victory was the first of a record nine-game BIG EAST win streak that saw the Irish climb to as high as 18th in the ESPN/USA Today rankings and also earned Brey his 250th career win as Notre Dame’s head coach.
The Irish advanced to the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship for the third straight year and finished with a 5-5 record versus ranked opponents during the season. In addition to the win over the Orange, another highlight for the Irish was a double-overtime (67-65) victory at Louisville that marked the first win by a Notre Dame team in the state of Kentucky since 1980 and snapped a 16-game losing steak to the Cardinals in the Bluegrass State. A second straight win at Connecticut also proved to be one of the featured victories during the record-setting nine-game BIG EAST win streak.
Few players at Notre Dame had as decorated a career in the classroom and on the basketball court as Abromaitis who proved to be the consummate model for all student-athletes. Despite suffering a torn ACL that ended his season in late November, Abromaitis made history when he was named the American Eagle Outfitters BIG EAST Scholar Athlete of the Year for the third consecutive year and became the first-ever three-time recipient of one of the league’s most prestigious awards.
The two-time Irish captain distinguished himself on the basketball court and in the classroom like few players program history. A three-time Dean’s List honoree, Abromaitis earned his undergraduate degree in finance with a 3.73 grade index in May 2010 from the Mendoza College of Business in just three years and finished with a 3.73 grade index over eight semesters. He then completed a one-year intensified MBA program and graduated with a 3.617 grade point average in earning his master’s degree in May 2011.
A two-time first team Academic All-American in ’10 and ’11, Abromaitis also was the recipient of the BIG EAST Scholar Athlete Sport Excellence Award for men’s basketball in each of those two seasons. He also became the first Irish men’s basketball player to earn first-team Academic All-America honors in back-to-back seasons since Pat Garrity in 1997 and 1998.
Abromaitis became the third player in BIG EAST history in ’11 to win the men’s basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year in back-to-back years. Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor was a two-time recipient in both 2003 and 2004, while Seton Hall’s Arturas Karnishovas was the honoree in both 1993 and 1994.
Abromaitis was a third-team all-BIG EAST selection in ’11 and earned a spot on the honorable mention team in ’10. He was an all-BIG EAST first team pick in the preseason this past fall.
A member of the ’11 USA Men’s World University Basketball Team in August, Abromaitis averaged 15.2 points and a career-best 6.2 rebounds during the 2010-11 campaign in helping lead Notre Dame to a 27-7 overall record and second-place finish in the BIG EAST Conference with a 14-4 mark. In conference play, he netted 14.7 points and grabbed 5.4 rebounds. In 2009-10, he averaged 16.1 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Abromaitis is one of 52 players in Notre Dame history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. In 83 career outings, that included 62 starts, he scored 1,137 career points for a 13.7 scoring average. After scoring just 20 points as a freshman in 2007-08 and sitting out the 2008-09 campaign, Abromaitis totaled 1,089 points during the ’10-’11 and ’11-’12 seasons.
Prior to his injury, he had played in two games and was averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds. During his career he scored in double figures in 58 outings, netted 20-plus points on 22 occasions and topped the 30-point mark three times. Abromaitis recorded three career double-doubles and grabbed 10 or more rebounds in four outings.
Martin averaged 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in helping lead the Irish this season. He started all 33 games he played in ’11-’12, scored in double figures in 17 contests and grabbed 10-plus rebounds in three games while averaging 34.7 minutes per contest. Two of his three double-doubles came in both of Notre Dame’s victories over USF. In a 60-49 victory during the regular season on Jan. 10, 2012, Martin netted 15 points and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds against the Bulls. He also tallied a career-high 23 points against Delaware State on Nov. 18, 2011.
Martin’s leadership was truly put to the test when Abromaitis, the only other returning starter on the Irish roster from last season, tore his ACL. He has started all 66 games he has played in for the Irish and scored 633 points for a 9.6 scoring average and grabbed 346 rebounds (5.2 per game).
Martin graduated in December ’11 from Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in history and computer applications and is currently enrolled in graduate school at the University.
Cooley’s hard work during the offseason paid big dividends for himself and the Irish this season as he enjoyed the best season of his collegiate career. For his efforts, he garnered second team all-BIG EAST honors and was honored as the BIG EAST Conference’s Most Improved Player as he became the first player in program history to win this award.
Heading into this season, Cooley had played in 55 career contests in his first two seasons and had scored just 145 career points (2.6 ppg.) and grabbed 143 career rebounds (2.5 rpg.). He had not made a start in his first two seasons and averaged just 8.4 minutes per game.
In ’11-’12, Cooley found himself as a mainstay in the Irish starting lineup. He led the Irish in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds. Cooley started 31 of the 33 contests he played and averaged 28.7 minutes per game. He led Notre Dame in shooting percentage as he converted on 158 of his 253 field goal attempts for a 62.5 percent clip. He also topped the team with 52 blocked shots.
Cooley was dominant inside for the Irish this season and led the Irish in scoring 11 times and in rebounding on 23 occasions. He finished the BIG EAST regular-season by averaging 14.6 points and 10.2 rebounds after netting just 3.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in conference play as a sophomore. Ten of his team-leading 13 double-doubles came during conference play.
Cooley entered the season having scored in double figures just four times in two seasons. This season, he scored in double figures 19 times and topped the 20-plus point mark on six occasions while also grabbing 10 or more rebounds in 15 contests. He netted a career-high 27 points in the regular-season finale against Providence on March 2 and also hauled in 17 rebounds. Cooley grabbed a career-high 18 boards against Rutgers on Feb. 15 in addition to scoring 22 points. In consecutive games against West Virginia, DePaul and Rutgers, he netted 20-plus points in all three of those outings and also had a four-game stretch during the BIG EAST season in which he posted four straight double-doubles.
Cooley was named BIG EAST Player of the Week once during the season and was a member of the league’s weekly honor roll five times.
Grant was Notre Dame’s leading double-figure scorer as he reached double figures 26 times during the season. He started 33 of 34 games and scored 20-plus points on four occasions that included a career-high 22-point outing against Bryant on Nov. 27, 2011. In that contest, he posted his first career double-double as he hauled in 11 rebounds.
Grant led the Irish with 169 assists (4.97) and committed just 63 turnovers while averaging 36.2 minutes per game. He also led the BIG EAST with a 2.83 assist-to-turnover ratio and finished 11th nationally in that same category with a 2.73 ratio.
Grant was named BIG EAST Rookie of the Week in the first week of the season and also was named to the weekly honor roll in late January.
As Notre Dame’s starting point guard, Atkins enjoyed a breakout season for the Irish after seeing time as a backup in his rookie season. He was Notre Dame’s third leading scorer at 12.1 points per game and was second on the team in assists at 4.1 assists per game. Akins averaged a team-high 37.9 minutes per game while starting all 33 games he played. He ranked fourth in the BIG EAST in minutes played (38.2) and played 40-plus minutes in 13 games overall during the season.
Named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll once during the season, Atkins reached double figures in 21 contests and three times eclipsed the 20-point mark. He scored a career-high 27 points in the season opener against Mississippi Valley State and dished off a career-high nine assists against Bryant. In the double-overtime victory at Louisville, a game in which he played all 50 minutes, Atkins scored 15 points and grabbed a personal-best eight rebounds.