Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2023

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

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44 APRIL 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame players filed into the locker room one August day in 2000, arriving to meet a new coach and start a new chapter no- body thought would be written. Matt Doherty had the Irish on the upswing, finally, and looked like a keeper. North Carolina filched him that July, though, and halted those good vibes. Here was Mike Brey, Doherty's replacement, needing to reset the mood and ease the appre- hension that comes with a sudden summer coaching change. Brey's tone-setting move was hanging a new locker room decora- tion front and center. "The first thing Mike did was frame a bracket — that bracket — so those guys know that's the goal," then- assistant coach Rod Balanis recalled. "We want to be part of that bracket." Never mind that Notre Dame had spent the last 10 years out of it, usu- ally not close to it, and had posted just two winning seasons in its first five years as a Big East member. Brey made a run for this job in 1999 and again one year later because he saw potential. It was asleep, he thought, not dead. He believed it could not only be awoken but returned to Digger Phelps-era heights. Brey strolled into the old Joyce Center for his introduction in July 2000 and, at age 41, promised to give it 10 good years. He stayed for 23. Thirteen of them ended with NCAA Tournament appearances. There were two Elite Eights, a march right down Tobacco Road to an Atlan- tic Coast Conference championship, 12 seasons with a conference record at least four games above .500 and a 45-game home winning streak. Notre Dame found its footing as a conference member, first in the Big East and then the ACC. It all made Brey synonymous with a program, and a program synonymous with him. Every era ends, and the finish line for Brey's is in Greensboro, N.C., at the ACC Tournament. The decision that Year 23 would be the last one came in mid-January, and it's the necessary one. Program and coach know it. Nobody's hiding from the reasons for the divorce. Come Selection Sunday, Notre Dame will be excluded from that bracket for the fifth time in six years. The Irish have drifted away from that same stan- dard Brey set back in 2000. Last year's second-round NCAA Tournament ap- pearance gave way to an 11-20 overall record and a 3-17 ACC mark during the 2022-23 regular season. The ending is part of Brey's story, but not the whole book. It doesn't erase the memories, the heights, the elevated standard. It provokes discussion of leg- acy. Which is what, exactly? Brey didn't reach a Final Four. But his impact on Notre Dame men's basketball goes be- yond becoming its all-time winningest coach and hanging a few banners. He gave it an identity. A challenging job has a blueprint for 21st century success thanks to Brey, who was the right person for the role with the right formula to elevate its re- sults and the attitude to stick with it. Coaches who don't fit Notre Dame usually don't succeed, and few fit it better than Brey. "It's a place that is unique in many ways," Iowa head coach and former Notre Dame assistant Fran McCaf- fery said. "It's spectacular in many ways, and the right person has to be the coach there." Notre Dame is not for everyone, and everyone is not for Notre Dame. Coaching basketball at Notre Dame means falling in line behind football, but still carrying an expectation to compete with college basketball's bluest bloods. For the better part of two decades, the Irish punched above their weight class in two leagues because Brey sustained an on-court formula and off-court ap- proach that meshed with this place as well as any could. "The biggest thing in college ath- letics and athletics, period, is you have to have an identity," said 2001- 05 Notre Dame forward and ACC Network analyst Jordan Cornette. "When you talk about a program, you have to say, 'Oh, that's Purdue, this is what they do. That's UCLA. "When you looked at Notre Dame, you knew what the identity was. Coach developed an identity that had sustain- ability and relevance." A SYSTEM THAT FIT Pick a season on the Notre Dame Ken- Pom page, and you'll find the same un- derlying statistical profile. A low turn- over rate (top 25 15 times since 2001), high assist rate (top 10 seven times) and strong three-point shooting (top 30 in accuracy 10 times). All told, the Irish were among the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency 16 times in Brey's tenure, per KenPom. They spread it and shot it, early adapt- ers of four-around-one and five-out offense. If Notre Dame couldn't recruit with the Big East's titans and the ACC's best, it had to make up ground some- where else to beat them. "We were one of the more forward- thinking programs in how we wanted to play, the style we wanted to play and Mike Brey And Notre Dame Were An Ideal Match During his 23-year tenure in South Bend, Brey became the win- ningest coach in school history with 483 wins heading into the ACC Tournament March 7. Fifteen of those victories came dur- ing his 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, including two years in which his teams advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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