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Notre Dame Basketball

Mike Brey Notebook | 11.24

November 24, 2020

Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey spoke on Tuesday afternoon as the Irish prepare to start the 2020-21 season at Michigan State on Saturday evening. 

On 2021 signee Blake Wesley:
“We are so thrilled to have Blake join us. I think it’s a great story. The city of South Bend and certainly JR added to that package is really cool for the area and community. You’ve been watching Blake Wesley since he was 13 years old around here. He was a camper and came to our basketball camp.

“A big, long guard who has a feel for the game. He’s a playmaking guard. He really sees the floor and can pass it. The ability to slash to the basket with his athletic ability. Great length and he hasn’t had to do it a whole lot yet, but I think what makes him really valuable as a freshman is his ability to defend. He can really get in a stance and guard you.

“For us, I’m really thrilled to have him coming to us. JR, Blake Wesley, the local story is a great story for our program. They were the focus of our recruiting for two years, maybe longer quite frankly. These were the ones we focused on.

“Now, you add Elijah Taylor to that class, who we will redshirt after we do the procedure on his ankle. A powerful frontline rebounder and you’ve got a big body in that class. I kind of like that class right now. Who knows what’s going to happen on the transfer market when all those rules change.”

On keeping the team focused despite the craziness of COVID:
“I think it’s sitting on all of our shoulders. I got a text before I went on that all our tests from Monday were negative. That’s how I live and we live every two days. Our group will test tomorrow, Friday evening in East Lansing and Saturday morning in East Lansing. That’s just our tests. Michigan State’s doing their thing and they play a game tomorrow night. 

“When you’re really trying to wrap your arms around that, you can find a lot to worry about and as coaches, we do. I’ve tried to deal with the day-to-day with our guys. We’re practicing and doing things together and that’s so healthy. We do need to play other people. I know there’s a little bit of a movement to shut it down. We need to try and do this. We need to really keep moving and try this thing. I’m hopeful we can play one game Saturday night against a really good team and then we’ll see where we are on Sunday and hopefully can move forward.” 

On talking with Tom Izzo since he was diagnosed with COVID:
“I did text with him a little bit the first week he was laid up. It’s great to hear he’s back. I know that he’s back with his team this week. Good timing. One of the things he said and it kind of struck me a little bit and I relayed it to my staff. He said, ‘I really have a great staff. A veteran staff who has been with me. When this does happen, I’m really confident they can help me.’

“I thought to myself I feel the same way. Rob Balanis has been with me 21 years. Ryan Humphrey has become a veteran and really probably one of the hottest head coaching candidates in the country if you want to be honest. Scott Martin has been with us. Guys that have played in the system and can teach the system. I feel if we get to that position and we probably will all get to that position that I have great help. I know he felt really good. He didn’t talk about symptoms with me, but he said he felt really good about his team and his staff moving forward.”

On who has improved since last year:
“I’d start with Prentiss Hubb in leadership. I think it’s clearly his team and his voice to quarterback. Coming in this year confident rotating up to do that. That’s an area that has really stuck out for us. As you saw, we named the rest of our captains. I’ve been really pleased with our two fifth-year seniors and how they’ve helped set the tone.

“Cormac Ryan, I’ve never had a player while sitting out in residence last year on the transfer rule be more engaged, have a voice and have an impact that way. He’s so pure that way. His teammates voted him captain, which is kind of almost unheard of.

“I think the leadership with Hubb has been really glaring. Physically our bodies look really good. Guys are older, stronger and they’ve found places to strength train when we didn’t do summer school. If you look at it, we have been back in training in the weight room with Rony Rolinksi since August 15th. We’ve had a longer preseason than ever before with the semester starting earlier.

“I really like (Juwan) Durrham’s body at 238 pounds. (Nate) Laszewski’s body, 232 pounds. Hubb better. Goodwin, Cormac Ryan – those guys are have grown. It’s the natural duration of being a junior and being older there.

“Two things that have stuck out to me you wait for within in our program. Goodwin and Laszewski voices. Naturally quiet guys. A little more vocal now. We can never get them to talk enough on defense and communicate. Their voices have stepped up in that sense.” 

On what he’s intrigued to learn about his team:
“I am a little nervous as there has been no exhibition game. We have not had any refs in to ref an intrasquad scrimmage like we used to. That has not been thought to be safe. Our first time we put on the uniforms and have real refs will be in East Lansing on Saturday night against a heck of a team.

“I’m banking on our maturity. I’m banking on this is a nucleus, at least those five starters, and I’d add (Nik) Djogo coming off the bench. These guys have played a lot of college basketball. They’ve been around and been in big games. I know it’s been a while, but I think poise and handling tough stretches are the areas we’re going to talk about starting probably tomorrow where we have to be calm and understand there will be really tough stretches our leadership must get us through.

 On depth:
"I think Djogo will have to play and has been playing in big games. I talked about our five and I think coming off the bench you have Matt Zona. We've felt very good about Matt Zona has given us. Frontline guy. Physical and knows how to play. What I love about Matt Zona is he knows he's playing with veteran guards and he doesn't screw them up. He plays his role. He screens for them. He passes it to them. Then he can make an open shot and he's got good footwork around the bucket. He plays a little older than he is and he's 250. We'll need him and he'll have a key role for us. 

"Djogo and him off the bench have been the best two. Tony Saunders is starting to come. An athletic, slashing wing, the young man from Miami. There's No. 8. We'll need him. 

"No. 9 as we head to East Lansing and into this schedule is Elijah Morgan. I don't really look and I know our players don't like at Elijah Morgan as a walk-on. He's a heck of a young guard. It's his second year in our program. Him and Hubb have battles in practice that are classic. They are standoffs some days. There's our nine. 

"Now, we're still working on Trey Wertz. You know what, I'm a little more hopeful. I think at the end of the day that letting these young men that are still not eligible are going to get there to make sure games aren't canceled. I don't know if it will be Saturday with Wertz, but we're going to keep working on him and then there's 10 guys. All 10 could play in a game and would play in a game." 

On ACC having programs wear GPS trackers to help with contact tracing: 
"The contact tracing is the real tough thing to manage. We will be in those. I am not sure when we will be those. Those are coming and those will help us with contact tracing, which is such a key. 

"The GPS pieces when they get here, they've been explained to us. I think they'll really help us and help my trainer sit there and track and be able to give things to our doctor when there is a positive test. 

On game with Tennessee being up in the air:
"I don't know the status of that game now. We're waiting to see if that's a game we can play. I hope we can play it, but we have to start thinking a little bit about plan B. Do we have to try and find a different game on that weekend of Dec. 5 or 6 if Tennessee can't go? 

"That's kind of where college basketball is going to be through this non-league situation. It could be scramble mode. I hope they can come. Maybe there will be enough time in their shut down to get back to practice mid-week next week and play us on Friday. I would be flexible to move the game to Saturday or Sunday to just get the game in. I know we play Ohio State on Tuesday, but we've reached out to see if Saturday or Sunday works better than Friday to tet this game in. We're flexible. We just have to get games in." 

On forcing young guys on the floor early due to circumstances:
"It's an interesting way of thinking. I think our 6th and 7th man are pretty set in Nik and Zona. Then it's Tony and Elijah. You can't just say, 'Well, maybe we'll get to them.' I used Elijah Morgan, but he has to play and be ready to play. 

"As I mentioned earlier, he's a good player. It's not just throwing a stop-gap measure in there. With the unknown of the Wertz situation still pending, I look at nine bodies. Tony and Elijah make it eight and nine. Those are the guys we're starting this thing with on Saturday and beyond.

"You're also trying to be smart in practice too. We practiced a lot. We get in the gym a lot. Now, I need to keep guys healthy the other way, the old fashioned way. I don't need any injuries. (Robby) Carmody, maybe he comes back at Christmas and gives us something and we add his body. We know Elijah Taylor is not going to be part of it. Maybe Wertz joins the part in the next 2-3 weeks." 

On a win at Michigan State signaling things have come full circle:
"I've thought about that a lot. That is kind of where some karma really started to change for us. We couldn't have been riding any higher from the previous years. We win Maui, but as we know, that was the night there was discomfort in Bonzie Colson's foot. We also got our butts kicked by a really good team. But the discomfort in Bonzie Colson's foot turned into the broken foot, which we really never recovered from, even though we almost snuck into the tournament after not having him most of the year. 

"Then, we spiraled with injuries and playing this junior class as freshmen. Really the first time I've seen us turn it back and change the karma a little bit was after Florida State, where we started to show some life. I think we were 9-4 and the current junior class as sophomores then started to look like ACC players. 

"It could be a really neat story to maybe come full circle." 

On defense:
"We're better defensively because older players talk more. I mentioned Laszewski and Goodwin. Our communication is better because we're older and we're veterans. They played a lot together. They know to guard together and talk through things better. 

"I still think the physicalness we'll see night in and night out is going to be something we've got to keep an eye on. We always mix in some zone and there's times we play zone for a real long time. 

"Our defensive rebounding, which is going to be a real key for us. We don't have a guy getting 12 rebounds a game in Mooney. Who is going to do that for us? I don't know if it will be one guy, but I think we have some people who can get up on that backboard and help us." 

On travel for this season:
"We will travel on Friday to East Lansing because we need to test up there Friday night and Saturday morning. We will not travel the day of the game. We'll go and get into our hotel routine. 

"Meals at night together, not the same. Team meetings, not the same. All of that will change.

"We will still charter when we need to. The Syracuse game will be the first time we will use those smaller planes. Our travel party is smaller, so we can spread out on busses and we can spread out on planes more. We cannot eat on the bus. Facemasks are going to be on. When we're not playing a game, the facemask will be on all the time. 

"I give our guys credit. Our habits have been really good in that department. That has been a learned habit. No one is fighting it on that.

"We decided to bus to Kentucky. It's not that bad of a bus ride. I'm also sensitive to our budget and given we aren't selling tickets. A charter is expensive. We'll probably even bus to Pittsburgh because we have a week before we play a game after the Pitt game in January. I'm trying to be conscious of the budget here in the midst of this."

On how to get back to the NCAA Tourney:
"We have a chance. We really have a chance. We've got a group we feel we can get back in the tournament. That's very realistic. We have got a group that knows how we play. They play the right way.

"We've got some offensive firepower. We've got really good guards. The Ryan/Hubb combo, I think is going to be really fun for people to watch those guys play off of each other. Goodwin is older and better. Laszewski is older and better. If Durham plays 27 minutes, what are his numbers going to be? Shouldn't he be a double-double guy? Hee's going to get that opportunity now. 

"We feel we have the ability to do that. We know our schedule is a bear, but that can be a good thing. I cannot believe anyone in the country will have a better strength of schedule than us. Now, that doesn't mean you have to go 20-7 to get in when you have a strength of schedule that is staring us in the eye starting Saturday night. 

"I'm really excited about moving forward. I know what we bit off with the schedule and we're going to work through this thing. When you have a schedule like that, there is always another great opportunity. Who is going to have a stronger strength of schedule than us by mid-January if we can play these? 

On Michigan State: 
"They do what they do and they do it annually. They lost two men, but they still have really great talent. They run, especially at home. Their transition game, you gotta try to get that under control. We couldn't control it the last time we were there. We never got it under control. They were bearing down on us. 

"When you're playing man-to-man defense, they screen the heck out of you. They really work to get their shooters stuff and then they've always been a great rebounding team. My mind goes to can we keep it to one-and-done? 

"Can we stop transition? Can we keep it to one-and-done and they don't play volleyball on the backboard? I think those are keys for us defensively. 

"We're going to have to get into our flow offensively. We're really good when we run. We're trying to play faster. We played quicker really starting last year and that's helped up Hubb and Ryan get down the floor. Can we get some rebounds and get out and get some buckets and not have to play against their halfcourt defense?"

On team living off-campus and maintaining bubble: 
"They are staying in their apartments. They're loving it—all of a sudden these underclassmen who knew the rule of not getting off-campus. If there was a pleasant surprise of COVID, it was not living in the dorm. 

"They won't go to a hotel. They'll stay in their setting. We moved our freshmen with about three weeks to go in the semester. They were in the dorms, as was Elijah Morgan, so we had four guys in dorms. I'm not going to put them back in the dorms in February. We're going to keep them off. 

"We've kind of created our bubble now. Our guys have done a great job of using those apartments to stay to themselves and keep our team healthy. 

On if he will celebrate shirtless after a big win again:
"One year from today, I sure hope this vaccination pulls off because I'd be in Maui right now getting ready for game two. My God, we need that to happen. 

"When I saw the snow this morning, I thought of that. 

"I'm always ready to take my shirt off after a big win." 

On relaxed dress code for 2020-21:
"I'm a big proponent of this. If we can ride this forward and do away with the suits a year from now and vote that in. You know what, I sense on the ACC head coaches Zooms we had throughout the summer; I sense there are a lot of coaches in the casual mode. 

"I'm all about it. I got quarter-zip depth and Under Armour golf slack depth and plenty of Under Armour sneakers. I'm going to be fine." 

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Mike Brey Notebook | 11.24

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