FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame mens basketball coach Mike Brey knows he can rely on three veteran players every game.
But he also knows that fifth-year senior Garrick Sherman, who leads the team with 14.9 points per game, senior Eric Atkins, who averages 14.3 points, and Pat Connaughton, who averages 13.8 points, need help as the Irish (11-8, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to play Wake Forest (13-6, 3-3) today.
Thats the progression for us, because it is so many new guys, Brey said. In the midst of us being 2-4 in the league, we cant lose sight of still teaching and trying to get guys confident in joining that.
Notre Dame has struggled to fill the void that was left when senior Jerian Grant, who averaged a team-high 19 points in the first 12 games, was lost for the rest of the season because of an academic issue.
And Breys task of finding support for the Irishs top three of7fensive players has been complicated by physical issues.
Sophomore Austin Burgett was lost for most of the second half in Tuesdays 76-74 loss at Florida State because of an irregular heartbeat. It was determined that he has junctional tachycardia, an abnormally fast heartbeat, and Brey said he wasnt sure if Burgett would play today.
Burgett, who is averaging 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 15.7 minutes, had started the last two games.
It was a scary incident, Brey said. I would plan on playing him if he can go. Wed love to move forward with him if its all systems go.
Notre Dame is also getting close to having fifth-year senior Tom Knight back.
The forward missed the last four games with a sprained ankle then he contracted the flu, which turned to pneumonia.
Knight started five of 14 games and averaged 4.5 points and 3 rebounds in 13.6 minutes before being sidelined. He returned to practice Thursday.
Im not sure if hes available to play Saturday, but he will travel with us, Brey said. He hasnt even traveled with us for a while. It will be good to have him back around the group.
Brey is also trying to get the three freshmen who have been called upon more since Grant was lost to produce.
Demetrius Jackson, who has started 14 of 19 games, is averaging 6.8 points and 1.9 assists in 24.6 minutes. Steve Vasturia, who has seen his playing time increase the most recently, is averaging 3.1 points in 15.2 minutes, and former New Haven standout V.J. Beachem is averaging just less than a point in 7.4 minutes.
I want to keep those young guys heads up, Brey said. You want to teach them. I dont think you want to jump down their throat, because they want to be good, the same thing with Burgett. Weve been kind of a confidence-giving program. Can we do that with him right now? Can we do that more with the three freshmen?
We just want to keep building.