It was partly "Rudy" that led Eric Atkins to Notre Dame. But not for the reasons you might think.

It was 2009, and the point guard was looking ahead to a college career after he graduated from Mount St. Joseph the following year.

Notre Dame was high on the list of schools recruiting him. Atkins was enticed by the possibility of early playing time and his respect for Irish coach Mike Brey.

Then came an emotional assist from "Rudy," the 1993 dramatization of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, the pint-sized Irish walk-on football player.

The movie is intended to be inspirational, but it wasn't the film itself that influenced Atkins. It was the circumstances surrounding it.

Atkins would watch the movie on TV with his father, William, who died of cancer as Eric was heading into his sophomore high school season.

"I probably wanted to watch something else, but I would sit down and watch with him," Atkins, a sophomore, said as the Irish prepared to face Maryland Sunday afternoon in the BB&T Classic in Washington, D.C. "It put Notre Dame in my mind at an early age."

When the movie would come on after his father's death, he would think of his dad — and of Notre Dame.

He committed to the school in April 2009.

Atkins, who had been a teammate of former Maryland forward Dino Gregory for a season at Mount St. Joseph, played right away. The Irish had lost starting point guard Tory Jackson from the previous year.

Atkins started six games as a freshman, averaging 5.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. His 2.56 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked 20th in the nation.

This season has already proved physically challenging for the wiry guard — and the BB&T Classic won't help.

Notre Dame last played Wednesday night in Spokane, Wash. After losing to Gonzaga, the Irish traveled immediately back to South Bend, Ind., arriving on Thursday at about 7:30 a.m.

With its game against the Terps, the team will have quickly played games on each coast — with a stop in the middle.

"I feel like I'm still trying to adjust," said Atkins, who is averaging 13.8 points per game.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon joked that he hoped the Irish (5-3) would arrive "tired and dead-legged" from the travel.

Turgeon said he's less concerned about Maryland's 3-3 record than about whether the team is improving. In particular, he said his frontcourt players need to box out better under the boards.

"Our rebounding is a joke. A joke," the coach said Saturday. "I ask them all the time, 'Do you want to be good?' "

While Turgeon said that "no one is going to vote us No. 1," he said he the Terps would be in plenty of winnable games this season and that he did not consider this "a lost year."

Even before his cross-country trip, Atkins had a stamina issue. He missed the second and third games of the season with tonsillitis. He said his weight has dropped about 10 pounds to 172, and he doesn't quite feel like himself.

It reminds him, he said, of a period in high school when his mother, Dominique, would make health-food concoctions to try to add some weight to his frame. "She fed me some weird things," he said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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