Seagears faces familiar foes in Notre Dame backcourt

<p>Freshman point guard Jerome Seagears and Notre Dame point guard
Eric Atkins jostle for position Monday night in a Rutgers win.
Seagears and Atkins, a junior, played AAU?basketball together.</p>

Freshman point guard Jerome Seagears and Notre Dame point guard Eric Atkins jostle for position Monday night in a Rutgers win. Seagears and Atkins, a junior, played AAU?basketball together.

For one night, Piscataway felt more like home to Jerome Seagears than his native Silver Spring, Md. Because when the Rutgers basketball team took on visiting Notre Dame on Monday, a pair of former AAU teammates stood across from him.

Irish junior point guard Eric Atkins and redshirt freshman guard Jerian Grant, both Maryland natives, took the Louis Brown Athletic Center floor opposite Seagears for the first time.

“When [Grant] was on the line, I told him, ‘Miss these like you did in practice all the time back in 14-and-under [leagues],’” Seagears said.

Seagears teamed up with Grant on Team Takeover, a North Carolina-based AAU program, when the two were young teenagers. The Scarlet Knights’ starting point guard moved on years later to D.C. Assault, based out of Washington, D.C., sharing backcourt duties with Atkins in the process.

Both live a half-hour drive from Seagears.

The Beltway trio combined for 36 points at the RAC, but Seagears’ Knights came away with a 65-58 victory, their second consecutive win against the Irish at home.

Seagears tied for the team lead in assists, a familiar outcome for the 6-foot-1 guard. But his poise was not always Seagears’ redeeming quality, said head coach Mike Rice.

“To have his growth to what he did [Monday] is actually a calming influence,” Rice said of Seagears. “And I can’t believe I’m saying that, because he was completely out of his mind in high school.”

Rice recalled watching tape of Seagears hoisting up 32 shots a game for Flora MacDonald Academy (N.C.) and playing with reckless abandon. Seagears was in “complete attack mode,” Rice said, and rarely slowed down.

Rice’s findings became Rutgers lore.

“From what Coach Rice said, Jerome just did whatever he wanted,” said freshman guard Eli Carter. “The college game is coming a lot easier to him [now]. He’s getting the feel of it.”

The results back up Carter’s support for his rookie teammate. Seagears leads Rutgers in assists per game at 2.3 while turning the ball over 1.5 times.

He has 17 less giveaways than Carter and 14 fewer than Myles Mack, his fellow freshman backcourt mate.

“I definitely say I’ve grown as a person, just knowing to be more poised and be more humble and let the game come to me,” Seagears said. “Be patient and things open up more.”

Still, the results are modest for the Knights in conference play. Rutgers ranks 15th in Big East games with 11.8 assists per contest. Only freshman-loaded St. John’s earns less helpers per game with 11.5.

But the Knights’ victory against Notre Dame might be a turning point after they totaled 13 assists, 10 in the first half.

“Every coach is an assist guy,” Rice said. “Getting the ball inside helped our guards with our movement. It collapsed the defense, and we were free to move a little bit easier. It seemed a lot easier than it did against West Virginia [in an 84-60 loss].”

Seagears was a main facilitator, playing against a pair of former teammates he used to defer to. But Atkins and Grant both enjoyed luxuries Seagears never did.

Atkins looked to former Irish point guard Ben Hansbrough last year as he adjusted to a starting role. Grant is part of a family that produced two NBA players, a former Clemson standout and Syracuse signee.

But Rice points to Seagears’ assist-to-turnover ratio as a sign of his growth. For Seagears, it is the nightly grind that is basketball in the Big East.

“With playing in this league, every night you have to come to play or you get sent home early,” Seagears said. “It’s a matter of time, being able to adjust to the speed of the game. But I think now we’re coming together as a unit and playing better as a team.”

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