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Notre Dame transfer Katenda finds home in Denton after accident impairs vision

Notre Dame transfer Katenda finds home in Denton after accident impairs vision

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda rises over Texas College defenders for a dunk. Nathan Roberts | Contributing Photographer

Notre Dame transfer Katenda finds home in Denton after accident impairs vision
November 19
04:45 2015

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer

@toriemosley

Landing a spot on a top-tier division 1 college basketball team to prepare for a hopeful professional career is on the wish lists of many high school hoops stars. Some go on to have lengthy, memorable careers. But for some, the road to basketball success is not so smooth.

Graduate student and forward Eric Katenda appeared to be on the former path after being recruited by Notre Dame University, an elite program that has only posted one losing record this century. But an accident during one of countless pick-up games Katenda has played resulted in the forward getting poked in the eye while jockeying for a rebound.

The accident left Katenda with distorted vision in his left eye temporarily and altered his collegiate career permanently.

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda’s goal is to help UNT’s team grow and go pro after this year. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda’s goal is to help UNT’s team grow and go pro after this year. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

“I went to the doctor and they did a bunch of testing to make sure my eye was all right,” Katenda said. “They couldn’t really tell at first, because there was so much blood in my eye that they couldn’t see the back of it. So I went through two surgeries, and they told me I had a severed optic nerve.”

Katenda’s journey started in his hometown, Paris, where he lived and played basketball until the age of 14. His talents on the court eventually led him to America to play for prep high school Cheshire Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut, before playing his final high school season at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas.

Katenda averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals as a senior while winning the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) national championship and the MVP award as well. ESPN-U named Katenda the No. 27 ranked power forward of the 2011 recruiting class.

That prompted Notre Dame to recruit Katenda, where he earned a spot in the starting rotation. But the fluke eye accident that occurred the off-season before his freshman year changed everything.

“I was a key recruit for Notre Dame,” Katenda said. “I spent my whole summer working out. I didn’t go home. I didn’t go back to France. I got called to play for the national team [in 2011], and I didn’t go there. I worked out two to three times a day and just had a freak accident doing what I was supposed to do.”

Katenda said the injury was a setback, but it did not affect his playing ability. The incident still put fear into the Notre Dame coaching staff, who suggested to Katenda to take the semester off instead of risking a more severe injury.

“Honestly it didn’t stop me from playing,” Katenda said. “What stopped me from playing was really people thinking it hit me worse than what it did. I remember calling [Notre Dame head coach] Mike Brey the day after it happened like, ‘Still get me out there, I’ll be back playing, trust me.’ I didn’t just spend three months of working out for no reason.”

Katenda followed  Brey’s orders to take the semester off and didn’t play his entire freshman season. In the end, he only played 17 career games for the Fighting Irish before choosing to transfer to North Texas in his last year of eligibility after graduating from Notre Dame in August.

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda rises over Texas College defenders for a dunk. Nathan Roberts | Contributing Photographer

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda rises over Texas College defenders for a dunk. Nathan Roberts | Contributing Photographer

Mean Green head basketball coach Tony Benford remembers Katenda’s glory days and even recruited the forward out of high school as an associate head coach at Marquette University.

“Eric brings a lot of experience to this program,” Benford said. “When he was available, I remembered the name. And our coaching staff talked to coach Brey when [Katenda] was interested in transferring, and we’re very fortunate to have him.”

The feeling is mutual for Katenda.

“Coach Benford really made me feel comfortable about the opportunity,” Katenda said. “He said ‘The guys are a really young and hungry team in need of an older guy with his head on his shoulders.’ So how could I go wrong with somebody who trusts in a guy who hasn’t played in two years?”

Katenda has become accustomed to the team on and off the court since his Denton arrival. The forward is roommates with team captain and sophomore forward Jeremy Combs, who said he loves the Mean Green’s new addition.

“I’m glad to have him as a part of the team,” Combs said. “He’s been a great roommate also. We chill and do everything together off the court.”

At 23-years-old, Katenda enjoys playing the role of the veteran on a team consisting mostly of 18, 19 and 20-year-olds. The potential he sees in players like Combs and junior guard J-Mychal Reese reminds him of younger versions of himself.

“I can see how far they can go to being the leaders of a championship level team,” Katenda said. “I’ve played with pros, and I’ve played with [Combs and Reese]. So I know they have the ‘it’ factor. They just have to take it to the next level.”

Katenda saw his first live action in two years for the Mean Green at home in the 110-61 victory against Texas College Monday night with 18 minutes of play. The 18 minutes was half of his entire playing time while at Notre Dame.

The forward scored 15 points, seven rebounds and a steal in the rotation for North Texas. Only time will tell how his final opportunity for greatness will turn out.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity of getting my master’s degree [in education], and I still have this crazy goal of being a pro,” Katenda said. “So I’m going to work my butt off and go all out be a leader to the guys so I can be the best teammate this season and get us to where we need to go.”

Featured Image: North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda rises over Texas College defenders for a dunk. Nathan Roberts | Contributing Photographer

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