Irish men 'just keep plugging forward'

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Questions continue to come at Notre Dame coach Mike Brey during one of the most trying college basketball seasons he’s had during his 14 in South Bend.

What can he do to help the Irish be better on both ends?

Does the lineup need to be tweaked?

What’s needed to keep the karma around the program positive?

One question Brey has not asked himself, and refuses to no matter how the final six games of the regular season unfold, is if his message and his voice have become stale, if his words are no longer being received by eager ears.

“You don’t have time to hang your head or (say), ‘Woe is me,’” Brey said Thursday. “As long as I’ve been in this thing, man, you go through cycles in the profession. You go through every cycle possible.

“You look and say sometimes the law of averages catches up with you and you have a year where it gets a little bit all over the board.”

Barring a massive turnaround starting Sunday at Boston College, Notre Dame (13-12; 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) will see its run of four-straight trips to the NCAA tournament end. A seventh trip in the last eight years is out. Post-season play of any kind also is in question, as is having to handle the program’s first losing record since 1998-99. Twenty wins for a fifth consecutive season? Not likely.

But look around, and not far from campus. Butler (12-12), Illinois (14-11) and Indiana (14-10) all are in similar situations as Notre Dame of having to salvage something from a seemingly lost season. All have been better, but not this year.

“It’s college basketball,” Brey said.

Brey understands the levels of disappointment that deepen with each loss. The Irish aren’t going anywhere close to where they want this season, but Brey is quick to remind everyone where the program has been, and it wasn’t that long ago.

“I look at it as we have had an unbelievable run here,” he said. “We’ve probably been spoiled a little bit. It’s been pretty good. Not this year.

“You just keep plugging forward with it.”

For Brey, that means making sure he’s fresh and focused every day for those 90 minutes

or so in practice. That’s when his players want to be taught, want to be coached, want to find a way to make this better. One reason Brey has remained upbeat despite having lost eight of 10 before Tuesday’s double-overtime victory over Clemson, is that his players also refuse to drop their heads and worry or wonder.

Brey also wonders, but not much about yesterdays. For him and his staff, it’s more about the todays and tomorrows.

“When you’re in a season like this you can think two things — what can we do today to kind of get more confident and maybe get on a little run and you think about next year,” Brey said. “We’ll keep moving forward and finish this thing.”

Injury intel

The medical news is good for Irish senior power forward Garrick Sherman, not so much with sophomore power forward Eric Katenda.

Sherman suffered a chip fracture of his right ring finger early in the first half Tuesday against Clemson. Brey feared afterward that Sherman had a broken bone, which would have required surgery to insert a pin to help it heal and likely would have cost the team’s leading scorer (14.3) and rebounder (7.9) extended time.

No surgery is needed.

“It will be a little uncomfortable but he’ll be able to play with it,” Brey said. “It’s something that’s going to be there the rest of the year. It’s not going to heal before the season’s out.

“He’s just going to have to play with it.”

The injury – and how to properly tape it to prevent it from continuing to cause pain – bothered Sherman against Clemson. Sherman entered the game leading the ACC in field goal percentage but made only three of 11 shots. He was able to grip the ball adequately and shoot it during Wednesday’s light workout.

“Now that we have some time and we know how to tape it, address it and practice with it, I think it’s going to be much less a factor,” Brey said. “It was very painful at the time.”

As for Katenda, the Paris native has been shut down once again — this time indefinitely — with lingering soreness and tendonitis in a right knee that required microfracture surgery in the fall. Katenda had played three minutes in two games – the only action of his career – this season but was back in street clothes for the Clemson game.

“The knee is bothering him again,” Brey said. “I’m amazed at how bad the (health) luck is with this guy.”

With Katenda not an option, former Penn High School standout Austin Torres again becomes one. Sitting out the season to preserve a year of eligibility, Torres becomes the 10th available scholarship player should Brey have to dive that deep into the rotation.

Though he has never played, Torres has dressed in uniform for every game this season, but was in street clothes for the North Carolina game after suffering a sprained ankle. He was back in uniform Tuesday.

“Be ready,” Brey said he told Torres. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Don’t ask

Brey was able to go all of four seconds into his 22-minute press conference Thursday before being asked about freshman guard Demetrius Jackson.

Jackson has been separated from the team since earlier in the week to concentrate on academics. He did not play Tuesday and his status for Sunday’s game against Boston College remains questionable.

“We’re not giving Demetrius updates,” Brey said. “We’re not. He’ll be back when he’s ready to be back and then we’ll cut him loose. I don’t think we’re going to do updates on him.”

A McDonald’s All-American and former standout at Marian High School, where he became the all-time leading scorer in Northern Indiana Conference history (1,934 career points) this time last winter, Jackson is averaging 6.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 23.3 minutes over 24 games this season.

Brey said Thursday night on his radio show that he works Jackson out in The Pit, the team’s basement practice facility, every night at 10 p.m.

“We haven’t thrown him out of the place,” Brey said.

Notre Dame center Garrick Sherman (11) puts up a shot in traffic against Virginia on Jan. 28 at Notre Dame.  Sherman has a hand injury but will continue to play. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)