Blue and Gold Illustrated

October 28, 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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56 OCT. 28, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY JACK SOBLE N otre Dame junior guard Julian Roper II, a transfer from North- western, didn't hesitate when asked what a Micah Shrewsberry practice prioritizes. The answer is defense. "Just straight defense," as he put it. "If y'all watch one of our practices, we probably practice defense the whole practice," Roper said. "And then offense is the last thing we do. Just coming out there every day, working on our defense and focusing on defense every night, that's going to be one of our biggest identities." In the practice report- ers watched in early Oc- tober, Notre Dame's sec- ond official session of the 2023-24 season, players did get to work on offense — but they didn't shoot. Instead, Shrewsberry ro- tated them through three passing and dribbling drills, working as fast, if not faster than they did in July. Only twice did coaches cheer for something that h a p p e n e d d u r i n g t h e drills. Both times, it was when a practice squad player deflected a pass. "I think you are what you emphasize," Shrews- berry said. "For us, we need to have a defensive team from the start. So, we emphasize that a lot. We emphasize ball movement on offense." The first-year Notre Dame coach is drilling his squad hard, and he said there are still several things the Irish need to clean up before the season starts in No- vember. Effort, however, is not one of them. Effort is a non-negotiable for Shrews- berry. He doesn't coach effort; he ex- pects it. With this group of 10 players, he said, he doesn't have to. "They're competing, and they're getting after it, and that's part of that groundwork of who we want to be," Shrewsberry said. Returning players, like junior guard J.R. Konieczny, have noticed a differ- ence in how Shrewsberry coaches as opposed to the previous staff. Konieczny comes out of practice and his body hurts. That didn't happen last year under longtime Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, at least not to this extent. But he believes it's worth it, in large part be- cause he's seen the success of Shrews- berry's teams in the past. "Oh my, yeah, it's been a grind, for sure," Konieczny said. "It's definitely been different. I think it's been 'good different,' though." Shrewsberry also expects his team to learn his defensive scheme, as he has said in the past. He'll tell his players what to do much more on defense than on offense, where he runs a more free- flowing system. He tells his players — like Konieczny, about whom he said this specifically — that the question of "Who can follow the defensive rules best?" will go a long way toward determining who plays. "I need rule followers," Shrewsberry said. "I need guys that can understand how we guard certain things and do it, in live action. We drill it, we drill it, we drill it, we drill it, now do it in live action." Konieczny has impressed Shrewsberry so far, as have fellow Notre Dame return- ers Tony Sanders Jr. (a senior guard) and Matt Zona (a senior forward) in how they've taken to the new coaching style. As far as Shrewsberry is concerned, they're freshmen in terms of learning how to play basketball with him as their coach. The only sophomore is forward Kebba Njie, who followed the former Penn State coach from State College, Pa., to South Bend. All three, and even junior walk-on guard Alex Wade, have embraced the new emphasis on defense. "They've really just gone with the flow and p i c ke d u p eve ry t h i n g that we've been doing," Shrewsberry said. "I try and keep them on their toes of what the day is going to be like, so now, you're excited to come in every single day and see what practice is going to be and see what we're going to learn. And as long as you do that, like, that's the attitude that we need. And those guys have had it." R e g a r d i n g N o t r e Dame's four freshmen — including Markus Bur- ton, a point guard from nearby Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn High — Shrews- berry has been impressed with their competitiveness. He also likes that the freshmen spend time with each other off the court, saying that whenever you see them, they're together. "They don't back down from any- body," Shrewsberry said. "There's no brother-in-law act, where, 'Man, I'm going to let you do your thing and you look good. Next time you give me an op- portunity and I'll look good.' No, we're going to help each other get better." Notre Dame men's basketball be- gins its season at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at home against Niagara. By then, Shrewsberry will have identified five players who play defense the way he needs. ✦ Fighting Irish Emphasizing Defense During Preseason Practice First-year head coach Micah Shrewsberry is focused on developing a strong defensive identity with his first Notre Dame team. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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