“You just learn to keep your head down,” Brey added sheepishly to his audience of about 150.
It’s a good time for Brey to keep his head down. He’s coming off his first losing mark as ND coach, going 15-17 overall, 6-12 in the league, during the program’s first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Still, that did come on the heels of a program-record seven straight 20-win seasons. Brey has guided the Irish to nine NCAA Tournament appearances overall.
Along the way, he’s built his teams with an increasing Indiana flavor, a result that he suggests is due at least in part to that longevity.
“If you look at the Division I coaches around the state, I’m the old guy, the one guy who’s been at his place for a long time,” said Brey, 55. “IU’s changed over. Purdue’s changed, Butler, Ball State have changed.”
The current Irish roster features four in-state players. Those include Marian graduate Demetrius Jackson and Penn grad Austin Torres, each coming off their first years at ND, along with classmate V.J. Beachem from Fort Wayne and junior-to-be Austin Burgett out of the Indianapolis area.
A couple of Brey’s premier players over the years, Chris Thomas from Indianapolis Pike and Luke Harangody from Andrean, have been Indiana products, too.
“(Basketball’s) really good in this state, and it’s good in this state because the high school coaches run their programs like college programs,” Brey said. “You get a kid from this state, they’ve been coached, they’re fundamentally sound, their basketball IQ is high, and that really fits how we play.”
Part of how the Irish play next season will be with a determination to prove that last season was an aberration.
Jerian Grant, ND’s scoring (19.0) and assist (6.2) leader through 12 games last winter before being suspended due to academics, will be back, as will sharpshooter Pat Connaughton (13.8 points, 7.1 rebounds). Connaughton recently signed a pro baseball contract with Baltimore, but has been OK’d by the Orioles to play his final college basketball season.
“I’m excited about our (coming) season,” Brey said. “The good news (last season) was our young guys got to play a lot, and that was also a bit of the bad news, because they really played more than they should have and couldn’t close out (games), but they did get that experience. Then you add Grant and Connaughton back. I think you can say Grant and Connaughton are two the 12 best returning players in the ACC. They’re proven guys.”
They’re long-term guys, which is what the coach wants.
“We don’t do much with the one-and-dones,” Brey said, addressing the proliferation of blue-chip recruits who head to college intent on leaving after one season.
“They’re probably not a good fit for us,” Brey said. “The one-and-dones are not going to stay in the dorms, which we require our guys to do. We’re going to require more academically. I’m not down on the one-and-done kid. He just needs to find a different place. He needs to be out of class at noon and in the gym the rest of the day. At our place, it’s just not going to fit.”
Conversely, transfers can fit at Notre Dame. Brey says they practically must, given the current college basketball climate.
“We’ve had 500 Division I transfers in college basketball this year,” said Brey, who’s had success with transfers before and is still looking to fill multiple scholarship spots for the coming season. “I don’t know how healthy (that many transfers) is, but it’s a phenomenon.”
The coach pointed to Duke, Michigan State and Ohio State as programs that have not historically added transfers, but are doing so now.
“It’s interesting,“ Brey said, alluding not only to the idea of adding them, but to that of losing them.
“Many of these kids have already played at multiple high schools and played multiple summer camps, so it’s already built into them (that) three months into their freshman year, ‘Oh, it’s not going good? I’m out of here.’” Brey said. “It’s a different dynamic to coach. I don’t deal with it as much as the coach at Indiana or Purdue, but you’re not done recruiting them when you sign them. You’re recruiting them every day.”