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New League Excites Irish Recruits

Monday, November 25, 2013 11:36am
By: Notre Dame Insider

Is Notre Dame's ACC affiliation actually helping recruiting close to home?

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s move to the ACC was supposed to open recruiting doors in places that have generally been closed to Mike Brey and his staff.

One player who signed during the early period in November – power forward Martin Geben from Hagerstown, Md., by way of Lithuania – admitted that he gave Notre Dame a longer look because of its affiliation with the ACC.

Another, Bonzie Colson Jr., from New Bedford, Mass., also eyed the Irish because of their ACC connections. His father, Bonzie Sr., was an assistant under Al Skinner when Boston College made its move to the ACC.

But being in the ACC might help the Irish recruit closer to home.

During a recent Irish staff meeting, the names of 10 current high school juniors were discussed. Of those 10, eight were from the Midwest.

“What’s helping us in the Midwest are those kids that grew up with Big Ten blinders on,” Brey said. “My take has been early in the process that there’s more intrigue because of the ACC.

“A kid is more opened-minded to us.”

Midwestern prospects are giving Notre Dame a longer look knowing that they still could go to school relatively close to home while still playing at places such as Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke) and the Dean Smith Center (North Carolina).

“That’s been an interesting shift with kids out here in this area,” Brey said.

Brey reiterated that the Interstate 95 corridor from Boston to Washington remains a key recruiting area for the Irish.

Notre Dame’s roster currently carries six players from the Midwest.

Burgett Steps Up

When October arrived, he was on the outside of the Notre Dame men’s basketball rotation looking in, hoping that if everything broke right, he would get a bigger bite.

When November arrived, he had stepped into a key spot in said rotation after an injury to a classmate opened the door for him to do more.

As December neared, Irish sophomore power forward Austin Burgett was pushing hard for a starting spot. He has come a long way since media day in early October, when he pondered what people would see differently from him this winter.

“Hopefully playing,” he said.

Joking aside, Burgett attempted to answer the question in all seriousness.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I just want to contribute. I can help.”

Burgett has been all business early in the 2013-14 season. When he played 19 minutes in the third game – a home loss to Indiana State on Nov. 17 – Burgett had logged more minutes (61) than he did all of last season (60).

No Irish player has taken as big of a leap as quickly as the 6-9, 227-pounder from Avon, Ind. He’s gone from end-of-the-bench, mop-up guy to rotation mainstay. During the first three games, the guy teammates call “Burg” has been one of the first reserves called into action.

Last year, he was one of the last.

“It’s nice to get on the court instead of being in practice being blue (a reserve) and getting beat up every week helping them prepare,” Burgett said. “It’s nice to get out there and play against different people.”

When classmate Zach Auguste suffered a broken left hand during a mid-October workout, the Irish needed another big to work as a top reserve. Given the chance to do more with the starters in practices and then again in games – he started the first exhibition against Indianapolis – Burgett proved that all the time spent watching and waiting last season was put to good use.

Burgett impressed by fitting seamlessly with the core group. He did so by keeping it simple. He rebounded. He made the occasional open shot. He moved the ball to the right guy at the right time. He screened to free up the perimeter of Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant. He defended. He bounced around.

Burgett showed enough during Auguste’s absence to maintain his spot in the rotation. When another sophomore – swingman Cameron Biedscheid – decided to grow his game and sit out the season to preserve a year of eligibility, Burgett was guaranteed to remain a key guy.

Burgett scored seven points in 24 minutes, both career highs, in the opener against Miami (Ohio). He delivered another seven points with two rebounds in 18 minutes against Stetson. He scored all of 11 last season.

“Austin Burgett has had a huge impact for our basketball team,” Brey said. “He’s going to be very important to our season.”

Not a press conference goes by that Brey isn’t asked about Burgett. His responses often end the same – Burgett is going to play and play a lot, he’s an important piece.

Important because even though the Irish carry four power forwards on the active roster – a fifth, freshman Austin Torres, is likely to follow Biedscheid and sit out the year – only Burgett has the unique skills to play the “stretch-four man” spot. He helps space the floor by stepping out and making perimeter shots while also doing the dirty-work duties required of guys his size.

It’s a role that’s been manned by former Irish players Tim Abromaitis, Rob Kurz and Scott Martin, who served as a mentor to Burgett last season. While Abromaitis and Martin were scorers first, Burgett’s game has a lot of Kurz in it, in that Burgett looks first and second and sometimes even third to help spring someone else before looking for something for himself.

“Our three veteran perimeter guys love playing with Austin Burgett,” Brey said. “That’s all I need to say.”

Having that trust from the head coach allows Burgett to play with the all-important free mind instead of wondering if the next minute on the floor might be his last. Following the early struggles, Burgett delivered a baseline drive and a two-handed dunk.

“Like Coach Brey says, just don’t play out of your character, just do what you do in practice,” Burgett said. “I feel like when I come out there, I’m not trying to do too much and just let the game come to me.”

Had Burgett’s thought process been different, this might have been his first season of college basketball. With the smallest of chances to see meaningful minutes on a veteran team loaded with frontcourt contributors last season, Burgett was offered the opportunity to sit out as a freshman. He declined.

Long before that decision, Burgett talked with his father, Terry, and the two reached another – college was a four-year time in Burgett’s life. Regardless of what happened on the court, South Bend would be his home only for those four years.

“Even if I did sit out, I’m not going to stay here five years,” Burgett said. “I’ve always thought if I’m not good enough to play after four years, then what’s another year going to do?”

So far, a whole lot.