Notre Dame Basketball

Brey: Irish work NCAA hope; says 'Free agency's coming'

February 25, 2020
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Mike Brey simultaneously sees his Notre Dame’s Wednesday night trip to Boston College in a silo and his team’s rest of the season before him on a map.

The Fighting Irish’s 20th-year coach has no complaints. Especially after languishing among the quadrant of Atlantic Coast Conference teams with the fewest league wins in the final week of January.

“We’ve got one game on our schedule. That’s how we’ve got to think about it. It would be a heck of a win for us to win up there (Wednesday) night,” Brey said. “I hate to put a limit on it or a cap on it. We have work to do; I’ve explained that to them. We have more to do, but there’s other stuff out there happening in other leagues as well.

“I’m thrilled we’re in the position we’re in, and I want to try to keep us, and Mooney got us into this, ‘We’ve got Boston College, and we’ll deal with the other one on Thursday when we get to Winston-Salem.’”

The Irish (17-10, 8-8 ACC) travel Thursday in advance of Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, which lost last month to Notre Dame, 90-80, and is host of the Irish’s final road tilt. They come back home next week for a pair of opportunity games --- including March 4 against No. 6 Florida State.

“I think our guys are smart enough, we’re not looking ahead, but next Wednesday night, a Quad-1 opportunity is huge for us (against Florida State at home),” Brey said. “But if you keep winning down the stretch, whether it’s Quad-1s, Quad-2s or Quad-3s, you start to get into the mix and it kind of works itself out. So that’s the goal.”

First things first, however. The Eagles (13-15, 7-10), despite a recent skid of losing three of their last four, own a one-point victory at Notre Dame in early December, as well as a one-point win at North Carolina and home triumphs against Virginia and N.C. State.

“I think rule of thumb, general rule of thumb, whether a league is up or its down, or its this or its that, a Power-5 that is, if you have a winning record in a Power-5 league, you’re going to be on the board somewhere,” Brey said of an potential at-large NCAA Tournament bid. “And then you’ve got to look on the flight to Greensboro (for the ACC Tournament) and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to probably do this to really be considered.’”

DURHAM ASCENDING

Brey took time to praise both the development and maturity of senior post Juwan Durham, a Connecticut transfer originally from Florida.

A senior in class standing and a graduate, Durham has a remaining year of eligibility. Brey acknowledged both Durham --- and seldom-used forward Nik Djogo --- could explore options at season’s end as graduate transfers, but Brey does not expect that to be the case, particularly for Durham.

“Take some graduate courses, not necessarily get a Master’s degree,” Brey said of the future plan for Durham. “He’s full barrel to come back. I’ve talked to him a little bit, and I’ve said, ‘Hey, Mooney gets out of the way, why can’t you be a 13 (points) and 10 (rebounds) guy? He clears the deck and we’re playing around you.’”

Durham set his career-best mark with 21 points earlier this month in the Irish’s loss at Duke, and his scoring and rebounding averages this season are up to 8 and 5, respectively, per game.

Thus, Brey carves some time in each practice to let next year’s Irish --- Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin, Durham, Nate Laszewski and Stanford-transfer Cormac Ryan --- battle against this year’s old guard.

“Both of them could be grad transfers, but I don’t think either one of them is thinking about that,” Brey said. “For Juwan, I play next year’s starting lineup a little bit every day. He’s been a casualty a little bit of our starting lineup. That doesn’t always sit well; human nature is human nature.

“But I think he also sees how we’ve invested in him and how we’ve brought him along and he’s gotten better and we’ve challenged him when he’s needs to be challenged. And Ryan Humphrey has been an unbelievable mentor to him. I do think he sees we’ve had, his best basketball has been with us. Let us finish the project.”

Durham told reporters he expected to be back and reiterated a second time “most likely I’ll be here.”

NCAA FREE AGENCY COMING

Brey, serving his term as president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, wholly embraces both the graduate-transfer model that’s current in NCAA athletics, as well as the rule that requires a transferring student-athlete to sit out a year in residence barring a waiver granting immediate playing time.

The former isn’t changing; the latter is about to usher in “free agency” in college athletics, according to Brey.

“Now where we’re going, I think we’re going to free agency,” Brey said. “I don’t think we can win that. The coaches don’t want that, and we feel, I sat out a year (going from Northwestern State to George Washington) and it was good for me when I transferred, but I think it’s going to free agency.

“Which I think I was a coach at Delaware, a lot of really good mid-major players that I had, and a lot of them are leaving now anyway, getting a waiver and transferring up, but now it’s going to be just an amazing vacuum.”

Brey says he isn’t sure he’d be two decades into his tenure at Notre Dame under a coming transfer-rule change Brey feels so certain is happening that he says, “we can’t win this one.”

“I tell Mike Pegues, Louisville assistant coach, all the time, he was my best player at Delaware, you would have gone to Villanova or Maryland after your sophomore year and I never would have got the Notre Dame job,” Brey said. “He laughed and I said, ‘No, I’m serious.’ I’ve had a lot of coaches call me, because I’m on the hot set as president, and I just talked to Tad Boyle at Colorado, he said, ‘Mike, it’s horrible.’

“I don’t think we can win it. We meet with (NCAA President Mark) Emmert and the NCAA administration at the Final Four as a board. That’s going to be the No. 1 pushback. I’m really interested to hear if we have any ability to push; I don’t think we do. I think this thing’s out of the gate.”

 
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