Routine is tournament thing for Notre Dame men's basketball team

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — New college basketball season, new tournament opportunity, same old routine for No. 17 Notre Dame.

Three games stretched across four days of Thanksgiving and the holiday weekend have taken the Irish to Disney World. To succeed in Central Florida, coach Mike Brey will conjure memories of North Carolina and the blueprint his team followed to perfection nearly nine months ago.

Playing so many games in such a short span requires a tight, no-nonsense schedule. Games and scout sessions and shoot-arounds come quickly. Rest becomes critical. To make sure the Irish (3-0) are ready Thursday against high-scoring Monmouth (2-1) in the AdvoCare Invitational quarterfinals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, Brey will swipe the script from last season’s magical run to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship.

A gauntlet of really good teams awaits.

“I think we have a pretty good routine in these tournament situations,” said Brey, whose Irish won the tournament here in 2010 when it was the Old Spice Classic. “We’re going to do exactly what we did in March, 'cause that worked.”

Following that flowchart means the Irish, who were scheduled to arrive Tuesday night in Florida via charter flight, will be all business beginning around 1 Wednesday afternoon. Each of the eight participating teams gets an hour to practice on the HP Field House floor. As the Irish did in Greensboro, and then later during their four games in the NCAA tournament, they’ll do more than just get loose and shoot a few shots during their practice window.

For the better part of 60 minutes, they’ll be in game mode.

“I like to play and go live on the main court,” Brey said. “I want us to get a feel of getting up and down the court live where we’re going to play.”

Once the hour is up, the Irish will head for a nearby gym and use about 30 minutes to shoot, walk through their sets and fine-tune any scouting issues. Later that night after the pre-tournament dinner and a Mass, a staple before every Irish game home or away, there will be a second scouting session. That’s when players will work off their own three-ring binder notebooks in dissecting Monmouth’s strengths and weaknesses, personnel and pet plays. They’ll also view a 10-minute opponent highlight video.

The Irish may have traded the cold and snow of South Bend for the Orlando sun, but this is no time for much R and R. Now an NBA rookie, former Irish guard Jerian Grant is in town Wednesday with the New York Knicks to play the Orlando Magic while many of his former teammates are right down Interstate 4 at Disney World.

But their paths won’t cross — Grant will be busy, and so too will Notre Dame.

Gameday

Players will sleep in Thursday before brunch and another shoot-around at HP Field House. There, they’ll walk through more sets, get up more shots and go 5-on-0 to get loose for about an hour. A shooting contest — who can first hit from halfcourt? — closes every game day shoot-around.

From there, it’s back to the hotel and a little down time for the players. But the coaches keep coaching. Brey might grab guard Demetrius Jackson after lunch for a quick talk about leadership or to go over a game situation. Rod Balanis may do the same with power forward Zach Auguste; Anthony Solomon could get with guards Matt Farrell or Matt Ryan.

Junior wing V.J. Beachem will find his way back to his bed for his game-day ritual.

“I’ve gotta get a nap in after shoot-around and before the pre-game meal,” Beachem said.

Notre Dame and Monmouth tip around 6:30 Thanksgiving night. Afterward, the Irish will return to the team hotel around 10 for a late dinner and team meeting win or lose to discuss what just transpired. Brey’s assistants — typically two of the three — will remain at the arena to scout the Dayton-Iowa game. One of them will be Friday’s opponent.

There will be no talk of the next opponent as the Irish eat and unwind after their opener. After the meal, several Irish usually will seek out Dr. Jerry Hofferth for a little massage therapy. But Hofferth will be on the football team’s trip to Northern California this weekend.

Brey knows where most of his main guys will go inside the team hotel.

“They’ll head to the hot tub for 30 minutes before they go to bed just to kind of loosen up and stretch out,” Brey said.

That routine was created by former Irish guards Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Grant during the 2011-12 season. One time that year, in Philadelphia before an overtime victory over Villanova, the downtown hotel that housed the Irish had no hot tub. The three found one to use at a nearby hotel.

They were whirlpool regulars on the road during their collegiate careers.

The routine hasn’t caught on with junior guard Steve Vasturia.

“I’m not much of a hot-tub guy,” he said. “I’m a relax guy and will probably find a movie or something, just hang out and see what happens.”

Beachem, now in his first season as a starter, also has another way to unwind rather than sitting in hot water.

“I’ll go relax and listen to some music,” he said. “That helps clear my mind and focus on the next game.”

Up next

The Dayton-Iowa game likely won’t be decided until close to midnight. The only way the players will know who won is if they see the final score on TV or on their phones. The coaching staff will meet once the assistants return from the arena to discuss the next opponent. On these quick turnarounds, Brey tries to keep the strategy session from stretching past 3 a.m. ("‘cause it’s a long weekend.”)

On Friday, the Irish will hold their first scouting report meeting on their next opponent at 9 a.m. At 11, it’s back to HP Field House for practice and a repeat of the previous day’s routine.

No matter how short of a night it’s been, the assistants have a plethora of information waiting for the Irish to absorb. They seemingly know every tendency of the next opponent.

“That,” Beachem said, “carries over to our players.”

If Notre Dame beats Monmouth — no given the way the Hawks and this season of early upsets have started — the Irish will find themselves in the late game (around 9:30) Friday night.

That also would be routine for Notre Dame, which played late last March in the ACC (Duke, North Carolina) and NCAA (Butler) tournaments. The Irish were so good so late that Brey labeled them the “night stalkers.”

“We had the night shift down to a science,” he said. “I hope we can really practice it again.”

Saturday’s an off day, which allows some flexibility in the schedule. There will be practice and scouting sessions and film, but the times aren’t set in stone.

Irish assistant coach Martin Ingelsby plans to take a few hours to watch recent Irish signee John Mooney, who lives in nearby Lake Brantley, play a high school game Saturday afternoon. Brey will head north of Orlando to see his father, Paul, who resides nearby.

“I need to go up and visit him and check him out,” said Brey, whose mother, Betty, died on the same March day Notre Dame beat Butler in overtime to advance to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.

Notre Dame will follow its routine again Sunday when it closes tournament play before hustling to the airport and a charter flight home that night. It’s back to class Monday before another trip Tuesday night in advance of Wednesday’s game (also late — 9:15 p.m., South Bend time) against Illinois in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

These tournaments mean that win or lose, there’s another game coming quickly, and the Irish wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s so early in the season — and really the school year — that their legs are fresh, their bodies are fresh and their minds are fresh.

“It’s nice to have a schedule and play every day,” Vasturia said. “You finish one game and then deal with whatever’s up next so you’ve got to be locked in and get your rest.”

Rest and recovery are critical during these tight formats. Making sure to get both allows players to be at their best from the jump. And they have to be, for there’s no easing into anything.

“The most important thing is being locked in,” Vasturia said. “You can’t start slow or you’re going to lose.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Members of the Notre Dame men's basketball team know the routine of playing a lot of games in a short window of space.SBT File Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ