Notre Dame men’s basketball: Who will provide energy for rebounds?

Al Lesar

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Shooting is a basketball skill that can be taught. There are drills for ballhandling. Techniques and positioning for almost every phase of the game can be rehearsed.

But, rebounding is an attitude. No matter how hard Mike Brey and his Notre Dame men’s basketball staff might try, energy can't be coached.

It's either there or it isn't.

That could be where Jack Cooley will be missed the most at Notre Dame.

The recently-graduated Cooley was a 6-foot-9, 246-pound bundle of frenetic fast-twitch muscle fibers that translated into a significant low-post presence last season.

Gone from the Irish arsenal this season are Cooley's 13.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, and intense intangibles that were critical in a 25-10 campaign.

If this year's team is facing a rebounding by committee scenario, the three main members of that group — Tom Knight, Garrick Sherman and Zach Auguste — have a way to go to fill the void. Last year, those three combined to average 16.2 points and 9.6 boards, and rarely showed the infectious intensity that was common with Cooley.

"What's my biggest concern moving forward?" Brey said Wednesday during his 14th media day as the Irish head coach. "How are we going to rebound the ball? Jack Cooley rebounded the ball on both ends of the floor. We're going to have to be a team rebounding group. Certainly, those ‘bigs’ have to be better in that department. Our perimeter has to help us.

"It's a big challenge: Knight, Sherman, Auguste, what can you do more on the defensive backboard?"

The 6-10, 258-pound Knight, a fifth-year guy, (5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds) stepped into a prominent role early last season when Scott Martin's physical ailments curtailed his career. Senior Sherman (7.0, 3.4), 6-11 and 255, was a non-entity at midseason, but exploded onto the scene with his amazing 17-point effort in the five overtimes that ended in a win over eventual national champion Louisville. Auguste (3.7, 2.7), a 6-10, 242-pound sophomore, was used almost out of desperation last year and earned valuable experience.

If the Irish expect to be competitive in the Atlantic Coast Conference, those three will have to go from bit players to starring roles.

"Jack attacked the glass," Knight said. "We have to prove we have the heart to attack every possession.

"It's hard to coach someone to have energy. It's something you've got to have. We should be fine in that area. The energy should be something that we all build off of."

"My game was kind of limited last season," said Auguste. "This year, we have to go after it. (Martin's injury problem) was a bad thing, but it gave me and a couple other guys an opportunity to get on the floor.

"I got a lot of confidence from playing last year. This game is fast and physical. I look forward to the physical game; that's the game I play."

When Sherman plays in his first ACC game, he will have played in the country's three power conferences. He started in the Big Ten, at Michigan State. Transferred to Notre Dame and the Big East. Now, he's on the move again.

"Rebounding is the big thing we'll have to replace," Sherman said. "It's not on one guy to try to do the job. We're all in it.

"Last year was such a learning experience. You're in the rotation; you're out of it; you're back in. You appreciate it a lot more when you're playing."

Assistant coach Rod Balanis has been given the task of making sure the Irish "bigs" are up to the task of filling Cooley's shoes.

"The main thing is you have to bring (energy) every day to practice," Balanis said. "I don't expect those guys to be Jack on the glass, but can we do it by committee? Everybody do your part.

"They're not Jack. Just be the best they can be."

And be that way with energy.

Notre Dame is hoping to get lots of rebounds this season from the trio of, from left, Garrick Sherman, Zach Auguste and Tom Knight, who pose for the team's official photograph Wednesday during media day.