Notes: Exhaustion = postseason excellence for Notre Dame hoops

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Climbing aboard the charter bus that carried him back to campus from Cleveland following the 2015 NCAA tournament was a chore for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.

His brain was a bag of wet cement. His arms felt as if they were totting anvils. His legs? Pure lead. A 2014-15 season that saw Notre Dame win 32 games, capture its first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1979 took a toll on the boss.

Never in his head coaching career could Brey remember feeling as spent as he did that Sunday morning in northeast Ohio.

He had to get away.

When the Final Four convened in Indianapolis, Brey instead booked a flight for South Florida. He checked into a Miami-area beachfront resort hotel and watched a few days pass from his chair by the ocean.

As it took two months to regain his bearings, Brey remembers wondering when he might feel that drained again.

He felt it again following a second-straight trip to the Elite Eight. Notre Dame’s 24-12 season ended Easter night in Philadelphia with a loss to North Carolina in the East Regional championship game, and Brey isn’t yet back to feeling himself.

“I’m still catching up,” he said earlier this month. “When you play as late into March as we’ve played, it’s hard.”

The Irish coaching staff barely had time to catch its breath after the season ended before hitting the recruiting road for the April evaluation period. At the same time, Brey was helping graduated seniors Zach Auguste and A.J. Burgett and former guard Demetrius Jackson figure out their agents. Senior captain-to-be V.J. Beachem also needed guidance on the process of his short stay in the NBA draft.

Coming off another long, successful season, April couldn’t end soon enough.

“I always look to May where I can start to take a deep breath,” Brey said. “If I can get to May, then I can go hide.

“Psychologically, you can downshift a little bit.”

The downshift won’t last long. The July evaluation period will be here soon. School starts in August. Then it’s back on the same college basketball hamster wheel as the last two years. As draining as it is, Brey wouldn’t mind a third deep run through March next spring.

“Let’s keep doing it; let’s do it every year,” he said. “I love it.”

Hunger games

A long rookie year in the NBA felt like two or three for former Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant.

The first-round draft pick went from playing big minutes early with the New York Knicks to a brief stint where he barely played. He went from a forgotten sub around Christmas to a late-season starter. His head coach was fired as the Knicks missed the playoffs for a third-straight season.

Grant took a couple weeks away to decompress and spend time around his infant son, Hunter Jrue. But as it got deeper in the NBA playoffs, Grant couldn’t help but feel that itch to get playing again.

“When you watch, it’s like when you were in college watching the NCAA tournament,” Grant said. “When you’re not a part of it, you’re like, man, that’s where I want to be.”

Grant took a special interest in the playoffs as good friend and former teammate Pat Connaughton advanced to the Western Conference semifinals with the Portland Trail Blazers. Grant tried to tune in any night the Blazers played, but the three-hour time difference and likely early wake-up call from his son were too much.

“It was rough,” Grant joked.

Though the Knicks still don’t have a head coach, the pressure to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 next season will be massive around midtown Manhattan. Grant welcomes that.

“We finished the season pretty strong,” he said. “Hopefully that will run into next year and we can do something special.”

In 76 games as a rookie, Grant averaged 5.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 16.6 minutes per game.

A Martin moment

Any trip to Saint Joseph County for former Purdue standout swingman Robbie Hummel isn’t complete without thinking about his former high school and one-time college teammate Scott Martin, a Notre Dame graduate.

In town last week for a Purdue alumni club event at Juday Creek, Hummel was quick to share one of his favorite Martin stories.

When both were high school seniors, Martin scored 43 points in Valparaiso’s victory over Highland. Hummel managed only four. Afterward at a restaurant near school, the Vikings gathered to eat wings and watch sports. Martin just couldn’t sit silently as the scores rolled across the bottom of the screen. In his own dry sense of humor way, Martin mentioned after seeing an NBA team score 40 points in a half that he had done that and more all by himself. After seeing an NHL team score five goals, Martin hammered Hummel that a hockey team had scored more than his good friend.

“Man, he could score in high school,” Hummel said. “He got buckets. He really did.”

Limited to 18 games his final year at Notre Dame because of lingering knee issues, Martin recently wrapped his third season playing professionally in England, where he averaged 14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 29.8 minutes per game.

“I don’t know what it is about Valpo and 6-foot-8 guys; we weren’t able to stay healthy,” joked Hummel, who twice shredded his right knee in college. “Scott’s a really good basketball player when he’s healthy.”

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI

May often is a month for Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey to catch his breath and get his legs back under him after a long college basketball regular season.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN