- Jason King
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Notre Dame’s Tim Abromaitis didn’t have to look very far for support after he suffered a season-ending knee injury back in November.
Two years earlier, his roommate went through the same thing.
“He’s handled it amazing, better than I did,” guard Scott Martin said. “He’s upbeat, he’s positive, always looking forward. He’s that kind of person.”
And the Fighting Irish are that kind of team.
Notre Dame’s obituary was all but written following Abromaitis’ injury. Mike Brey’s squad lost three of its next six games. Heads drooped, shoulders slumped. Even the NIT seemed like a stretch.
But then Big East play started, and the the Fighting Irish beat Pittsburgh and won at Louisville. People began to wonder if Notre Dame was for real - and it answered those questions by topping then-No. 1 Syracuse on Jan. 21 in South Bend, Ind.
With five games remaining in the regular season, Notre Dame is 10-3 and tied with Marquette for second place in the Big East standings. For that, the Fighting Irish can thank seniors such as Martin, a Purdue transfer who averages 9 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Excited as he is about the the rest of the season, Martin is hoping the 2011-12 campaign is not his last in South Bend. He’s petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and is hoping for a decision soon.
On Thursday, Martin took part in a Q-and-A with ESPN.com.
What was the team’s initial reaction when Tim went down?
Scott Martin: It started as shock. It was just disbelief. We were all kind of hit hard. It happened right in front of all of us. He dribbled into the lane and just jump-stopped and his knee gave out on him. Having been through that myself, you just feel so bad for Tim. We were all just shocked. That’s the best way to describe it.
How long did it take to bounce back mentally?
SM: I think we tried to move on as soon as possible, but it wasn’t very successful right away. It definitely took us two weeks or so - or maybe longer - to fully get over the realization that he was hurt and that he wasn’t going to be there. It definitely took time, maybe more time than it should’ve. But Abro was such a big part of the team. It was just hard to fathom that he wasn’t going to be out there.
What eventually helped you get past it and sparked the success you’re having now?
SM: It has a lot to do with our confidence. The younger guys are a lot more confident than they were early. They believe in themselves. They step up and hit the big shot when they need to. It builds on itself. The more wins you get, the more confidence you get. It just keeps continuing to go that way. The mode we’re in right now, we just want to keep building on things. The other great thing about us is that no one is satisfied right now. We don’t think we’ve done enough and we have more we want to accomplish.
Why does this team have that drive? Is it coaching? Is it confidence?
SM: It’s a little of both, actually. I don’t think anyone wanted to quit. We were bound and determined to get this thing figured out and to get wins. That’s what we did. Our practices have improved tremendously since the beginning of the year. I think that just speaks to the guys becoming more mature and understanding the importance of practice every day. I think that’s a big key in our development.
As an older player, what have you done to help the younger guys?
SM: I just try to lead by example. When Abro went down I felt like I needed to be a bit more vocal. I’ve really tried to step up in that area as far as saying what I feel and how I feel and that sort of thing to help pump guys up or keep guys in line. I’ve tried to be more vocal as the season has progressed.
What’s been the highlight of the season so far for you? Beating Syracuse?
SM: That was definitely a great moment. The win on the road at UConn was a great one for us. The great thing about this season is that there are so many great memories for us right now. It’s not just limited to one. Hopefully we can keep working and have some better ones. We’re excited about where we can go. We want to save that best moment and that best memory for later on in the season.
What makes the Joyce Center such a tough place to play?
SM: The atmosphere is great. The fans come out and support us and the students really do a good job. It’s a wild and crazy place. It gets pretty loud in there when we get rolling. The setup of the arena, with the background and everything, helps, too. It’s a shooters' arena. That helps Notre Dame teams, because Notre Dame tends to have really great shooters. That’s one thing that’s helped us tremendously, our ability to shoot the ball.
How optimistic are you that the NCAA will grant you another year of eligibility?
SM: We’re optimistic. We think we have a very good case. We’re trying for it, but it’s hard to tell. It’s in their hands now. We just laid out the facts as we saw them and how everything occurred. We’re waiting to hear back. We’re hopeful, but we’re not sure of everything yet.
Back to Tim ... how is he handling not getting to play? As his roommate, how have you been able to help him?
SM: He’s going to work through it. He really works hard in his rehab. He’s going to come back just as strong or stronger from this. In terms of helping him, there’s not much you can do except try to be a good friend. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.
What are your thoughts on Jack Cooley and his progression?
SM: Jack has taken his game to a whole new level. It’s exciting to see him play so well and be so aggressive. He knows what he’s capable of now and he believes he’s going to do it every night. He knows he’s going to go out and perform. It’s just great to see that look in his eyes, where he knows he’s going to get the rebound or he knows he’s going to make a shot.
I’ve got to think it’s a lot of fun to go to practice or to walk around Notre Dame’s campus these days. What’s the vibe like on campus?
SM: It’s a great feel around here right now. Everyone’s spirits are up. We want to keep it that way. The great thing is that our practices have always been productive. Even though we’ve had success, our workouts are still very good and very intense, with people pushing and shoving. We keep after each other, even through the success.