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May 14, 2012
Four returning starters would have been nice. Five is even better. Anyone for six?
Yes, only five players are allowed on a basketball court at the same time. But for Irish head coach Mike Brey, the 2012-13 season will feature another one of his veteran basketball teams in which age makes a huge difference, especially in light of the recent news that Scott Martin will return for a sixth year.
“I am so pleased,” said Brey after Martin was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA late last week. “I was very hopeful. At points, I didn’t know when it was going to get done.
“But as a sixth-year guy, Scott is almost like a player-coach. He does a great job of teaching younger guys how to play in the summer pick-up games. If you play with him, you learn how to play in our system. The leadership we saw last year, I think he’ll take it up to another level. I really think of him as a player-coach now as a sixth-year guy.”
Martin will join Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Jack Cooley and Pat Connaughton to help re-form the starting lineup that Brey put on the court for the better part of the 2011-12 season. Brey’s math makes it six.
“I look at Garrick Sherman as being a sixth starter,” said Brey of the 6-foot-10, 250-pound transfer from Michigan State who sat out the 2011-12 season. “Whether he starts or comes off the bench, that will be determined. But he’s like a starter.
“Then you figure in the other guys. Is it (6-foot-7 Cameron) Biescheid? Is it (6-foot-10, 220-pound) Zach Auguste or (6-foot-9, 220-pound Austin) Burgett? They’ll all get a chance to battle. But I really feel like we have six starters back because Garrick is an experienced guy who really knows our system and, like Scott, has a high basketball IQ.”
It was Martin who pulled the 2011-12 team together when it looked as if it was on the verge of crumbling following the season-ending injury to Tim Abromaitis. After losing eight of 15 games, the Irish embarked upon a nine-game Big East winning streak that eventually took the Irish to the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament.
"I love having him back," Brey said. "The right thing happened. I applaud the NCAA. "
The journey for Martin and the Irish didn’t come without its struggles.
“We wanted to stick with him,” said Brey of Martin. “We hung in there with him. Some theories were to bring him off the bench. I even thought about that to change the dynamics a little bit.
“What I talked to him about was throwing himself in on the defensive end. Really concentrate there. There’s not a better team defender in college basketball than this young man, and I said, ‘Rebound, defensive rebound.’ If you get going on (the offensive) end, the other stuff will take care of itself instead of thinking about getting his shot. Once we swung that focus, his basketball IQ is so high, you only need to deliver one sentence and he carries it out.”
At one point, Notre Dame thought it would get clarification on Martin’s status in mid-March. It took nearly two more months before the NCAA rendered a decision based upon his father’s illness when he decided to transfer from Purdue to Notre Dame following the 2007-08 season.
“I love having him back,” Brey said. “The right thing happened. I applaud the NCAA. At the end of the day, we got the right decision?
“You’ve got your whole starting lineup back, and that group played well together
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