The Notre Dame men's basketball team has two large holes to fill as it gets ready for this season.
Gone is the program's second-most prolific scorer and rebounder Luke Harangody and a point guard in Tory Jackson that coach Mike Brey said could run practice if the coaches didn't show up.
"The biggest thing you go right to is Tory Jackson leaving the building," Brey said during Monday's media day. "Not only having the ball in is hands 38 minutes a game, the toughness factor, but more than anything how he led and managed the locker room. I do not know if you can say there is one guy that is going to replace that. I think we are going to have to try and replace and certainly Luke Harangody's production, which has to be a group effort. The ballhandling and leadership is a concern, but we have five guys that are in their fourth or fifth year in college basketball. Our group has been together for a while now."
The Irish, who went 23-12 and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, do have a strong core coming back with guard Ben Hansbrough and forwards Carlton Scott, Tyrone Nash and Tim Abromaitis.
And with Scott Martin back after missing two seasons because he had to sit out 2008-09 after transferring from Purdue and couldn't play last season because of a knee injury, Notre Dame has hidden experience.
"I call them my five old guys," Brey said. "The one thing about those five old guys is they haven't played much together in pickup (games) because the teams are always trying to be split up evenly.
"I've tried to get them playing together a little bit. That is something we have to look at."
Notre Dame's likely use of freshman Eric Atkins at point guard isn't anything new for Brey.
Chris Thomas stepped into that role from day one with the Irish, and Jackson didn't have a lot of time before he was starting at the point his freshman season.
Brey said the key to using a freshman at point guard is the relationship between the coach and the player, as well as forgiveness.
"I think in the past with Chris Thomas and Tory Jackson, it was relationship and communication with me, which we really have to start nurturing at a whole other level starting Friday (the team's first preseason practice)," Brey said.
"I think you have to be more forgiving, more positive and be a confidence giver."
Working in Atkins' favor is that the Irish's other players are strong ballhandlers as well, and the point guard will not have all of the ball protection duties on his shoulders.
"It will help him a lot the first couple of games," Hansbrough said of other players being able to handle the ball. "He will be alright. He's got a lot of help. A lot of ball handlers."
Atkins said he is ready to be the team's primary ballhandler, and he is comfortable with his teammates after offseason workouts.
"I just have to be ready for when I step into the game," Atkins said. "Being here in the summer was the best part, getting a feel of everybody's game. I'm comfortable now."
Notre Dame forward Tyrone Nash might pioneer a new position this season – point center.
Brey said the 6-foot-8 senior is probably the best of the Irish's big men at handling the ball. Nash will be encouraged to grab rebounds and take the ball up court this season.
"That's pretty cool, point center," Nash said. "I think that's very encouraging that they have confidence in me to do that."
Scott Martin has waited two years to finally play a game.
He had to sit out the 2008-09 season because of NCAA rule after transferring from Purdue, and he missed last year after suffering a preseason knee injury.
"I've been thinking about it for a while," Martin said of playing a college game again. "I'm trying not to get too excited."
Martin played five games in Europe in August to help get back into playing shape.
"It was huge for me," Martin said of playing with the East Coast All-Stars. "I needed those games to get the rust off, and I felt I did. After playing those five games, I felt so much better from the time of Game 1 to the time of Game 5."
Notre Dame will open practice on Friday without sophomore forward Mike Broghammer and freshman guard Alex Dragicevich.
Brey said Broghammer had a procedure to relieve tendinitis in his knee and Dragicevich has mononucleosis. Brey said both are expected to be able to go by November.
The Irish play exhibition games on Nov. 1 and 6 and start the season at home against Georgia Southern on Nov. 12.