A year ago, the Irish men's basketball team was left for dead after a season ending injury to star Tim Abromaitis earlier in the year. Notre Dame shocked the world to make an improbable run all the way to the NCAA Tournament.
Now all five starters from that run return as the Irish get set to begin official practices on Friday. That's why expectations for this year's group are high but Irish coach Mike Brey is trying to keep things in prospective, saying his team isn't look beyond anything more than a regular season Big East Championship.
"Work to deliver on OUR expectations," Brey said Thursday on Media Day of his message to his team.
Brey wants his players to continue to play loose.
"I don't want them playing not to lose," Brey explained. "Enjoy the journey. You gotta be going for it."
Among the five returning starters is 6th year player Scott Martin.
"It's exciting because you can kind of pick up where you left off," Martin said of returning all five starters. "To build on what we did last year with a lot of the same faces and some new ones, we already have an identity established and a feel for each other."
Junior Eric Atkins returns as Notre Dame's starting point guard for the 2nd season in a row.
"It's a great feeling having our whole starting lineup back here," Atkins explained. "It makes you comfortable with everyone on the court. You trust everyone out there."
Jack Cooley returns up front for the Irish. Brey says he can't believe how far Cooley has come from a guy who used to take some days off to someone who not only cares about playing well for himself, but also about playing well for his team. Brey admits before last season, he wasn't sure that would ever happen. Now he says Cooley as a team leader who commands respect.
"I went to camp over the summer with some top college players and I was talking with them about who they had back and they asked who I was losing and I said 'no one.' Everyone was in shocked," Cooley said. "You don't have to work on anything really. You have these five guys who have already proven it, gone through the gauntlet. Just to have that confidence back there without questions besides a few in coming parts, is pretty good."
Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are the other two returning starters for the Irish. Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman is Notre Dame's '6th starter' according to Brey, who said the Irish will also likely play Tom Knight along with freshmen Cameron Beidscheid, Zack Auguste and Austin Burgett.
Brey admits he's never had this much depth before. Senior Joey Brooks will redshirt to preserve an extra year of eligibility.
Notre Dame plays its first pre-season game on October 29th at 7pm at Purcell Pavilion against Quincy. If Mike Brey reaches 5,000 facebook fans, he will wear a pink mock turtleneck for the game.
The Irish open up the regular season on Saturday November 10th at home against Evansville. They play host to Kentucky on November 29th.