Notre Dame forward Eric Katenda an inspiring leader for the Irish
Posted: Mar 20, 2015 10:39 PM EST | Updated: Mar 20, 2015 10:09 PM EST
“We first saw him out on the AAU circuit playing and thought he'd be a great prospect for us,” Coach Brey said.
Katenda always knew he wanted to play basketball.
“I just love the game. I started playing it when I was six,” Katenda said.
So when he had the chance to play for the University of Notre Dame, he jumped on it.
“I couldn't say no to a place like this,” Katenda said.
Katenda was all set to move to Notre Dame's campus in August of 2011 to begin his academic and basketball career, when he was involved in a freak accident during a pick-up game of basketball while taking summer courses in Washington D.C.
He says that July 8th day is one he can vividly recall.
“One guy went up for a layup, his friend was kind of late, ran after him, jumped, tried to block the shot and on his way down tried to hit me in the face while I was just looking up just looking for the ball,” Katenda said.
By the time Katenda made it to the emergency room, the doctors didn't have good news.
“They ran through a bunch of testing and then they came out and told me my optic nerve was severed,” Katenda said.
“Remember getting the call, we were on the road recruiting in July and by the time they got there to relieve the pressure behind the eye, he had lost sight in his eye,” Brey said.
Head Coach Mike Brey says his first thought was Katenda's promised athletic scholarship.
“The amazing thing is when I got him on the phone, I said Eric I want you to know, no matter what happens you've got your scholarship here,” Brey said.
But for Katenda, it wasn't a question of whether he would play again.
“He said, 'Coach, don't worry about me, I'm not going to feel sorry for myself, I'll be there in August and I'm going to be ready to play for you someday.' And I got emotional, I was like you've got to be kidding me,” Brey said.
“I was like no I'm ready to go to school, don't worry about me, I'm telling you I'm fine,” Katenda said.
But the road to recovery wasn't easy.
“My depth perception was kind of messed up so my jumper was really off, I couldn't tell how far the basket was away from me,” Katenda said.
However, Katenda wasn't going to give up. Just one month later, he was back out on the court.
And despite setbacks from multiple injuries that followed in his three seasons at Notre Dame, Brey says the Irish forward's determination to continue to overcome the odds makes him invaluable to his team.
“When he speaks, because he's very intelligent, and he speaks like a man and not a boy, everybody listens,” Brey said.
And it's a lesson Brey says everyone can learn from.
“Now, with all of these injuries I just know that anything can happen at any moment and you can't take anything for granted, you just have to enjoy the moment. Enjoy what you have and work as hard as you can because you may never get this opportunity back," Katenda said.
Katenda says he feels blessed to share this moment in the NCAA tournament with his teammates and coaches. And he says he still hopes to play at the professional level someday, something Coach Brey says could absolutely happen.