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December 23, 2013

Grant out, open mind in

As Notre Dame lost an eight-point lead in the last two minutes against No. 3 Ohio State, the Irish knew they were about to lose much more. University policy prohibited head coach Mike Brey from commenting on many of the specifics of senior guard Jerian Grant’s dismissal from the University due to an “academic matter,” but he did acknowledge both he and the team knew of Grant’s fate before the contest in Madison Square Garden.

“I tried not to think about it much,” Brey said of his mindset heading into Saturday night. “I think it hit me more afterwards, walking out of the arena is when it hit me.

“You coach your team. This is your team. Obviously it’s going to change, but when it changes, then deal with it.”

Grant -- who had averaged 19.0 points per game this season in 35.6 minutes per game, while also leading the Irish with 6.2 assists per game and 24 steals -- released a statement through Notre Dame on Sunday acknowledging that Brey’s team has changed, a lot.

“It is with regret and sorrow that I inform you that I am no longer enrolled at the University of Notre Dame due to an academic matter that I did not handle properly,” Grant’s statement began. “As a result, I am no longer part of the basketball program and will not be on the court competing with my teammates for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.”

If all goes according to plan, Grant will be readmitted to Notre Dame this spring, and reenroll in the summer. Again, all pending decision from the admissions office, Grant would be eligible to join the Irish for their scheduled tour through Italy in August.

In the meantime, Brey needs to replace Grant’s scoring, leadership and spot in the starting lineup. The scoring will likely come from a variety of sources, including senior guard and captain Eric Atkins, who will need to provide even more leadership than he already does as a three-time captain.

“I think it’s hardest on Eric,” Brey said of Grant’s best friend on the team. “He’s been our rock. I talked with him on Sunday, here’s the hand we’re dealt.

“Now, leading in this situation is even more of an opportunity.”

As for the hole in the starting lineup, Brey would only rule out removing sophomore swingman Cam Biedscheid’s red-shirt. Any of the other five scholarship players on the bench are options, including freshmen guards Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, sophomore forward Zach Auguste and senior forward Tom Knight. Of those four, only Knight has started a game previously.

The fifth on the bench, sophomore forward Austin Burgett started one game this season -- on Nov. 24 in Notre Dame’s 93-60 victory over Army -- but has only played three-plus minutes in the last two games, including an 0-of-3 shooting performance in three minutes against Indiana in the Crossroads Classic.

“I’ve thought about (the starting lineup) a lot in the last 48 hours,” Brey said. “Certainly we have experience in Tom Knight. He was the stop-gap measure for us last year.

“I think we really have to have an open mind to evaluate everything as far as who starts for us.”

Brey described Dec. 26th as a form of a first practice for the Irish, with their first game of a proverbial new season coming three days later, hosting Cansius. Notre Dame begins ACC play on Jan. 4, with No. 8 Duke visiting South Bend.

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