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March 15, 2012
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Before every game Eric Atkins pops a couple Gummi Bears, takes a few sips of apple juice and hits the court. That’s not an explanation for how Notre Dame’s point guard can sustain 38.2 minutes per game, a figure that would lead every major conference except the Big East, but it will have to pass for one.
There is no secret to Atkins’ stamina success as No. 7 Notre Dame tips off the NCAA tournament tomorrow night against No. 10 Xavier at the Greensboro Coliseum. Just good genes and hard work.
“He never trained with weights before he got here and didn’t understand what it was going to be like in his first season in the Big East,” said basketball strength coach Tony Rolinski. “He’s never going to be like Adonis, but from a strength and stamina standpoint, he’s taking care of his body.”
In Notre Dame’s last 11 games, Atkins has sat a total of 11 minutes.
Ten times this season Atkins has logged a full 40 minutes. In Notre Dame’s double overtime win at Louisville on Jan. 7, Atkins played the full 50 minutes.
That grind got Atkins to Notre Dame in the first place, so much that it was head coach Mike Brey’s main recruiting pitch. With Tory Jackson down to his final year, Notre Dame went after Atkins with a promise that after serving as a freshman co-pilot that he’d take over the team as a sophomore.
Atkins didn’t expect to be named a captain this early, but he craved this kind of action. Brey claims that in scouting the point guard three years ago that he knew Atkins could follow in the footsteps of 40-minute men like Jackson, Chris Quinn and Chris Thomas.
“When you watched him play on the AAU circuit when they’re playing like 15 games in three days in the dead of summer and you know there’s probably four guys in a room and they’re not sleeping very well and they’re not eating great, but he was always going 100 miles an hour,” Brey said. “He’s one of those guys you felt just genetically, he’s got the motor to do it.”
But the tread on Atkins’ sophomore year tire is starting to show. He’s 14-of-43 from the field in his last five games and hasn’t gone over 50 percent once. He’s 4-of-14 from three-point range in that stretch of three losses, an overtime win against South Florida and slipping past lowly Providence.
“Lately I’ve got a little tired but I’ve rested up a little bit more and I think I’m ready,” Atkins said. “The constant ball screens maybe have been getting to me a little bit. I think just keeping up my stamina and getting rest right now is the best thing I could do.”
Molding Atkins into Notre Dame’s next iron man started after his freshman season when he played a supporting role to Ben Hansbrough at the point, still starting six games on a veteran team. He arrived at 170 pounds, worked his was to 182 before a tonsillectomy sapped his strength earlier this season, but has since re-bulked.
Rolinski said Atkins could put on five more pounds this off-season before sacrificing speed for strength. The first priority was adding lower body power last off-season. This spring will be more about all-around strength.
As for stamina, that’s not going away anytime soon. Nor are Atkins’ 40-minute nights. The allure of playing from opening tap to final horn got Atkins to Notre Dame in the first place. Now his teammates wouldn’t know what to do without him on the court.
“He just knows that he has to be out there for us,” said Jerian Grant. “He’s our only point guard. He knows he’s our ball handler, and without him on the court he knows we’re going to struggle. He fights through the tiredness because he knows that we need him on the court.”