NOTRE DAME, Ind. - As the Notre Dame men's basketball team navigates unchartered territory this season in its new home in the Atlantic Coast Conference, leadership on the court will be a key to its success. And its not surprising that by a unanimous vote of their teammates, senior Eric Atkins (Columbia, Md.) and junior swingman Pat Connaughton (Arlington, Mass.) have been elected captains for the 2013-14 campaign.
For Atkins, his selection proves to be historic, as he becomes the first three-time captain in the 109-history of the program, while Connaughton is in his first season in the captaincy role. The duo has helped the Irish to a 47-22 record for a 68.1 winning percentage and made a combined 120 starts over the last two seasons.
"By vote of the team, these guys were unanimous choices to be our captains." Brey says. "Because of the new territory we are heading into this year, leadership is going to be more important than in previous seasons. We're going to encounter some unexpected stuff, and with that, we're going to need strong and consistent voices --Eric and Pat have done that for us since the summer.
"We've also had other good leadership from our other upperclassmen, which we are going to need, but these two guys have really set the tone for us."
Atkins begins his third season as Notre Dame starting point guard. In 101 career outings, he has made 73 starts in an Irish uniform. He begins this season with 977 career points for a career scoring average of 9.7 points per game and 433 career assists (4.3). Atkins ranks eighth on the all-time Irish career assist list and boasts a 2.30 career assist-to-turnover ration. He led the team in minutes played a year ago as he averaged 38.3 minutes per game and played 60 of a possible 65 minutes in Notre Dame's historic 104-101 five-overtime win over Louisville.
Atkins netted 11.2 points per game as Notre Dame's third-leading scorer in 2012-13 and was second in assists with a 5.5 average. He scored in double figures 21 times during the season and dished off 10 or more assists five times. Atkins scored a season-high 21 points in a loss at St. John's on Jan. 15, 2013 and grabbed a season-high seven rebounds versus George Washington. He dished off a career-high 13 assists against Kennesaw State, one of four games during the season in which he dished off 10 or more assists. Atkins also recorded four double-doubles, the first four of his career.
A two-time member of the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll, Atkins ranked first in the conference last season in three-point field percentage (.449) and in minutes played (39.9). He was one of three players (along with graduate Jack Cooley and Connaughton) to play and start in all 35 contests. His 2.61 assist-to-turnover ration ranked 17th nationally.
"It is very fitting that Eric is a captain again," Brey says. "He took over leading this program as soon as last season ended and in the summer and became the main voice. All of his teammates really look up to him. It's a great honor for him and he really deserves it. There's has not been a more steady guy in our program than Eric Atkins."
Since his freshman season, Connaughton has appeared in 69 games and made 53 consecutive starts. He was the fourth-leading scorer with an 8.9 scoring average and ranked third in rebounding at 4.7 per contest. Connaughton scored in double figures on 13 occasions and scored a season-high 21 points in Notre Dame's win over Rutgers in the BIG EAST Championship, his only 20-plus point outing of the season. He grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds in the Irish win over Louisville and also played 56 minutes in the contest.
Connaughton was named to the BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament Team in leading Notre Dame to its semifinal appearance. He led the Irish in scoring during the three-game run for the Irish in the tournament as he averaged 16.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. Connaughton averaged 36.0 minutes per game while shooting 61.5 percent (16-26) from the field and 62.5 percent (15-24) from three-point range.
In Notre Dame's 69-61 victory over Rutgers in its opening game of the BIG EAST Championship, Connaughton netted a game-high 21 points as he connected on seven-of-10 shots from the field and was six-of-eight from three-point range. The six three-point field goals were a season best and one shy of his career high. The following night against Marquette in the 73-65 quarterfinal win, he led all scorers as he finished with 18 points on six-for-10 shooting from three-point range. In Notre Dame's 69-57 semifinal loss to Louisville, Connaughton finished with nine points and eight rebounds as once again he scored all of his points from three-point range on three-of-six shooting from the field. His 15 three-pointers throughout the tournament were the fourth-most for a single BIG EAST tournament.
"I talked to Pat over the summer about being more vocal and how much his teammates respect him," Brey says. "He's really responded when I challenged him and has been a strong voice in the locker room and on the court. Like Eric, he's as steady as they come and he's been a guy we've come to count on over the past couple of seasons. I really like his mindset right now and how he has handled his leadership role."