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POPE: Notre Dame men’s basketball primed to bounce back

Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant drives lane as Chicago State guard Clake Rosenberg defends during first half an NCAA college

Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant drives the lane as Chicago State guard Clake Rosenberg defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Monday Nov. 26, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

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Updated: May 17, 2014 6:45AM



Mike Brey isn’t moving to the West Coast. Never even gave it a serious thought.

But I believe Notre Dame will be moving up the ACC standings in 2014-15.

Brey swatted away rumors tying him to California after the Irish held their team award ceremony Monday.

The Golden Bears announced the hiring of Cuonzo Martin on Tuesday. But before that, California reportedly had interest in discussing the position with Brey.

But why would Brey have any interest in Cal (I write while there is snow on the ground on April 15)? He didn’t.

“It’s so ridiculous. It’s ridiculous,” Brey said, according to IrishIllustrated.com. “There’s a great example of speculation running amuck at the Final Four in a coaches’ convention.”

The dots that led to California’s speculated interest end at the school’s athletic director Sandy Barbour. Barbour was an associate athletic director at Notre Dame from 2000-02 and the senior athletic administrator at the school from 2002-04.

“They checked in with my attorney in New York,” Brey said, according to the South Bend Tribune. “It was a 30-second conversation. But I never talked to Sandy. It never even got to square one. It was, ‘would he have an interest?’ My agent texted me. I said, ‘nope. Staying the course.’

“There’s no juice on that.”

Brey didn’t even feel the need to have a discussion with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick or deputy athletic director Jim Fraleigh.

“They knew the deal,” Brey said. “If you ever were to get into one of those where you’re interested, I think you’ve got to tell your AD right away. I’ve not had one of those. Not even Maryland (in 2011) was one of those. But yet that one took on a life of its own, too.”

Brey put that story in the past. Much like the disappointing 2013-14 season is in the rearview mirror. Notre Dame went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC. The Irish didn’t participate in either the NCAA tournament or NIT for the first time since 1998-99.

The team’s inaugural season in the ACC couldn’t have gotten off to a better start when Notre Dame defeated then No. 7 Duke on national television. But little went right the rest of the season.

Notre Dame was the No. 13 seed in the ACC tournament and lost to Wake Forest in the opening round.

The season was just a bump — albeit a big one — in the road.

Why?

The team was a play or two away from winning several games this season. A defensive stop here or a big bucket there, and it’s a different year.

Notre Dame went 6-7 in games decided by five points or fewer. The 12 ACC losses were by a combined 95 points. That’s 7.9 points per game.

One has to wonder what kind of difference Jerian Grant would have made. It’s never easy losing a top-notch scorer. Especially when the team is making the move to a new conference.

Grant is still in line to return to the program in June after serving an academic suspension this spring.

A preseason All-ACC pick, Grant averaged 19 points per game prior to the suspension. He’ll come back motivated.

Grant’s absence meant the team had to rely more on its young players. That could pay off in the long run for Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.

Each made pivotal plays in crunch times (Vasturia against Duke, Beachem in a win against Boston College, Jackson spurring a late charge in a loss at Miami).

Each will need to take a next step in the offseason.

Notre Dame will miss Eric Atkins. The guard, a three-time captain, played with great passion. He kept the Irish in several games and made a game-winning basket against Boston College.

The Irish could use another big man to replace the losses of Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight. There are reports that Jon Horford, who recently announced he is transferring from Michigan, could be a potential target.

If the team can improve rebounding and cut down on a rash of turnovers that were costly, the stage will be set for a bounce-back season.

“We got put on the mat this year,” Brey said, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Notre Dame won’t be down for long.



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