Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 46 of 55 OCT. 26, 2019 47 MEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI T he world of big-time coach- ing can have dramatic ebbs and flows. A prime example is Brian Kelly and Mike Brey at Notre Dame the past two and a half seasons. In late December 2016, seventh- year head coach Kelly's 4-8 finish elicited immense doubt about his future. Meanwhile, Brey was at the peak of Fighting Irish fan sup- port after back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. By December 2017, Notre Dame won the prestigious eight-team Maui Invitational, and the Irish signed a five-man class that was deemed Brey's best. Notre Dame stunned the nation when it won the ACC champion- ship in its second season in the league (2015) — which, along with the 1978 Final Four, is one of the program's two greatest single- season achievements. He then set a school record with the most NCAA Tournament victories (seven) over a three-year period from 2015-17. Brey also was just a few wins away from producing the most victories ever by a Notre Dame men's basket- ball coach, and soon his book with John Heisler and Jay Bilas — Keeping It Loose: Patience, Passion And My Life In Basketball — would be released. Then the calendar flipped to 2018 — and the patience of "the loosest coach in America" has been tested to the hilt since then. On Jan. 3, 2018, it was announced senior All-American forward Bonzie Colson would miss about two months of action with a broken foot. Senior point guard Matt Farrell also would be shelved a bit and limited with a bone bruise, while prized freshman forward D.J. Harvey barely saw action after the new year and would undergo micro- fracture surgery on his knee. Notre Dame still battled to make the NCAA Tournament — but Davidson's upset of Rhode Island in a league tour- nament championship game made the Irish "the last team out" in 2018. "Two years ago is the one that is hard to swallow," said Brey, sensing that his 2018-19 team would be way too green for tourney contention. Then the 2018-19 transition year with six newcomers had more setbacks. One senior captain (forward Elijah Burns) left a few games into the sea- son because of the youth movement, while another, guard Rex Pflueger, was medically redshirted after tearing his ACL late in the 88-80 win over Purdue in December. No recruit was signed in the 2019 cycle and the 14-19 record — 3-15 in the ACC for last place in the 15-team league — helped prompt Harvey's transfer to Vanderbilt. In the 34 months since December 2016, Kelly is now at his coaching ze- nith at Notre Dame, highlighted by the 2018 College Football Playoff appear- ance. Meanwhile, it is Brey who hit his nadir and faces a sense of urgency that Kelly did back in De- cember 2016. He still is as amiable, approachable and attempts to be as loose as ever, but … "It's a good front," said Brey in an exclusive interview with Blue & Gold Illustrated earlier this year. "It still helps in dealing with people, and that's who I am. But I can turn the screws as good as any of them when I need to." After a long recruiting drought, Notre Dame has picked up the pace a little, but will never consis- tently be at the top-tier level while shopping more in the top 50-150 players in the country. "I have stayed especially on our young staff," Brey said of former Irish players Ryan Humphrey and Ryan Ayers. "I put on the board, 'Recruit like assassins, not like nice guys from Notre Dame.' We could have a little more edge about us [recruiting] in that frame of mind … and it starts with me. "We've got to get tougher, we've got to grow up. It's been a message that's been circulated through [strength and conditioning coach] Tony Rolinski and my staff." GETTING BACK INTO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT Former Washington Redskins head coach and three-time Super Bowl champion Joe Gibbs had a basic rule of survival as a coach in the NFL: Do not lose three games in a row. Among Power Five teams in college basketball it is, "Don't miss the NCAA Tournament three years in a row." That is what Brey is staring at this season with intense urgency, even though his contract runs through the 2024-25 season. "I put a lot on myself to get us back," Brey said. "It's not necessarily job-se- curity wise. We have to get back in that thing for the momentum of the program and how the program has Brey enters his 20th season at the helm of the Irish basketball program, matching the tenure of former head coaches George Keogan (1923-43) and Digger Phelps (1971-91). PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND The Comeback Trail Now entering year 20, Mike Brey is eager to finish strong in the home stretch

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