Notre Dame men's basketball team plans to turn the page, start over without Grant
SOUTH BEND — When a four-day Christmas beak ends Thursday evening and members of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team reconvene on campus, they will prepare for a practice that numbers somewhere north of 50 this season.
It many ways, it will be workout No. 1 for an Irish team that starts over following Sunday’s announcement that senior guard Jerian Grant no longer is enrolled in school.
Eight wins and a dozen games into the 2013-14 season, Notre Dame hits the restart button in a massive way.
Hours after Saturday’s 64-61 loss to No. 3 Ohio State in New York, Grant submitted a six-paragraph statement on the school’s website explaining that because of an academic issue, he no longer was enrolled at the university.
Coach Mike Brey and the Irish knew late Saturday that Grant had played his last game, and that there’s no choice but to continue without him. Grant’s story line aside, the remaining three months and the team’s first run through the Atlantic Coast Conference will be more about who remains on the roster than who isn’t.
“They love him; they’ll stay in touch with him, but they also know we’re moving forward,” Brey said during a 29-minute teleconference Monday to discuss how the Irish will move on with the rest of their business minus Grant.
“Like, we don’t have any time to have any excuses. We’ve got 20 more games on the schedule to play.”
Brey classified his team’s attitude as excited to see what direction they can steer the season without their leading scorer. Notre Dame was considered one of the ACC’s elite and a definite NCAA tournament team when the season started. Following home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State, many wondered if the Irish became a fringe NCAA tournament team.
Now, with no Grant, nobody knows what the next three months hold for Notre Dame. But it’s sure going to be interesting to find out.
“You are completely off the radar,” Brey said. “You have minimal expectations given who we’re losing. Nobody’s paying attention to you; nobody knows (or even cares) what’s going on. People have written you off.
“That’s where you can kind of come together and develop and get better.”
This is a well-traveled road for Brey and the Irish. Though Grant is the first player during Brey’s 14-year tenure to leave school mid-year because of an academic issue, having to compete without a key contributor is nothing new.
-- A left knee injury forced forward Scott Martin to miss the final 12 games of the 2012-13. Notre Dame went 8-4 in the Big East without Martin, finished 11-7 in the league and advanced to a fourth-consecutive NCAA tournament.
-- Swingman Tim Abromaitis was lining up for a run at Big East Player of the Year in 2011-12 before suffering a right knee injury the day after Thanksgiving. The Irish went 17-8 without him. They also were 13-5 in the Big East, which included a school-record nine consecutive wins and third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
-- Former Big East player of the year and All-American Luke Harangody, who concluded his career as the second all-time leading scorer in history, suffered a bone bruise to his right knee late in the 2009-10 season. The Irish went 3-2 without Harangody. Notre Dame won four straight league games to end the regular season to close 10-8 in the Big East and advance to the 2010 NCAA tournament.
-- Former guard Kyle McAlarney was arrested for marijuana possession in December 2006 and was suspended from the university for the 2007 spring semester. Without McAlarney, the Irish went 12-5 and finished 11-5 in the Big East with five straight wins to end the regular sea-son before advancing to the 2007 NCAA tournament.
“The interesting thing about most of this nucleus, they kind of witnessed two of them,” Brey said of having to perform a massive juggling act the last two seasons. “They kind of lived through two of them and lived to earn a postseason bid.”
The Irish get a chance to make it 5-for-5, but replacing Grant is a massive task. Just about everything Notre Dame did offensively involved No. 22 in some way, shape or form. Grant led the team in scoring (19.0) and assists (6.2). He also was the one guy who could go get himself a bucket at any time.
“This one’s going to be the hardest,” Brey said.
Grant plans to apply for re-enrollment in time for summer school and is expected to be a part of the team’s August foreign tour of Italy and be a main guy in 2014-15. Having sat out his freshman season in 2010-11, which now helps salvage his college career instead of kicking immediately to the curb, Grant had one more year of eligibility remaining after this sea-son.
Grant was on track to graduate in the spring and quietly harbored dreams of following his dream – playing in the NBA – as early as next summer. That dream is on hold as Grant waits to be readmitted before finishing up his undergraduate work in sociology.
“One thing that’s very clear – Jerian Grant’s going to serve a heck of a penalty,” Brey said. “And he needs to, because he made a mistake and he owns up to it.
“The one thing I want to make clear about Jerian, I love Jerian Grant and I am really confident that I’ll get to coach him again.”
Until then, Brey has to coach the guys still in school. What will this Notre Dame team look like moving forward? Will the Irish start two power forwards? Will freshman guards V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia get more playing time? Is it time for McDonald’s All-American Demetrius Jackson to add to his workload?
As much as the Irish wanted Grant to remain a part of everything, they also know that without him, opportunity is knocking loudly. Everyone is going to get a chance to show more, to play more, to do more.
Brey has talked all year of keeping everyone active and engaged and ready for the moment when they’re needed. Now everyone is.
“We’ve got to look at a little bit of everything,” Brey said. “It’s best for me to have a very open mind to all the guys and how does this thing evolve naturally the first day or two of practice knowing (Grant’s) out?”
All options go back on the board except one. Bringing sophomore swingman Cameron Biedscheid back into the equation will not occur. Biedscheid announced following the sea-son opener against Miami (Ohio) that he had chosen to sit out the season to preserve a year of eligibility. Brey had said at the time that both coach and player understood that if needed, Biedscheid might be brought back to the added roster.
Brey said Monday he believes it’s best Biedscheid remain in his current role.
“I think the five-year program is best for Cam on a lot of fronts,” Brey said. “I think it’s already helped help this fall. We stay the course, because that’s what’s best for Cam long-term.”
News surfaced Monday that Biedscheid's family had requested a transfer. The school has yet to grant that request, and, even if it does, it's unclear if Biedscheid will follow through with it.
No Grant, no Biedscheid and with sophomore Eric Katenda still recovering from microfracture knee surgery in the fall means Notre Dame has with nine available scholarship players. Though league play is closing quickly, Brey believes the Irish need the next nine games to sort through all their options and create a new identity the next six weeks.
“Who are we Feb. 1?” Brey wondered. “Let’s work on really creating an identity by Feb. 1 as we figure this out. Our track record is we’ve figured this thing out.
“My mind is racing the last 48 hours. It kind of has you energized. Here we go again.”