clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Fighting Irish Basketball: Mike Brey and the Notre Dame Way

“I hope I’m good enough to retire here.”

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Keeping It Loose: Patience, Passion, and My Life in Basketball, by Mike Brey

If you’re anything like me, you’re starting to panic that Christmas is only 12 days away, and you’re scrambling to find that perfect gift for every person on your list. You may also be like me in that you have quite a few Notre Dame fans on your list. Well, if you’re still searching for that perfect gift for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball fan on your list, I may have just the thing.

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Mike Brey’s new book, “Keeping It Loose: Patience, Passion, and My Life in Basketball,” and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Still not convinced that it’s the perfect gift for the ND basketball fan on your list? Here are two quick excerpts from the book to help persuade you. I hope you enjoy it! And if you do, pick up a copy here!

The Notre Dame Way

WHAT WE REALLY TRY TO SELL AT NOTRE DAME—AND IT’S BEEN very successful—is a free-flowing offensive style of play, where a player can read and react and not be put in the box and be robotic. And we recruit guys with a high basketball IQ. You can’t have a wide-open kind of react offense without guys who have some innate basketball feel and who can catch and pass. That’s why we recruit big guys who are good with the ball. So that has been a real selling point. We are able to flow. We shoot it. We let it rip. Guys play with a free mind. They play confidently and fearlessly.

What we’ve really sold—and I think the senior class in 2017– 18 was yet another example—is that guys get better here. If you invest with us, you are going to be here four or five years. We’re not doing the one-and-dones. It’s not always going to be easy, but if you hang with us, you’re going to get better. What I have loved is we’ve had guys who have had great senior years the oldfashioned way.

When prospects are on campus visiting, I have video clips of our guards flowing, free-wheeling, shooting it with confidence from the perimeter. It’s our offensive style of play. I have edits of our big guys who touch the ball all over the floor. We don’t just put you on the block. You get to touch and catch it. You may even bring it up after a rebound. You may not throw an outlet; you may be able to bring it up.

We have an NBA-like screen-and-roll game. We actually have a quote that I use on the highlight tape for guards, and it’s a scout saying, “Brey ball is really NBA ball.” We throw that up on the TV before we show the video. We have great archives on our offensive style of play. It’s free flowing and it’s a system you get better in because you are allowed to do things outside of the box. The sexiness of our offensive style of play has been a big selling point.

There’s no question we look for guys who can make a shot and stretch the floor. We want guys who can shoot it and score. We want big guys who can open up the floor. Our biggest thing is spacing. You can’t have good spacing unless you have shooting threats on the floor. They won’t be respected because the defense will play in the lane. But if you have four threats on the floor at one time, man, your spacing is good. Then, if you do throw it in the post, they can’t help. You have driving opportunities because defenses are hugging shooters on the other side.

So I feel like we really have established an identity, and that’s great. When I go on the road recruiting now, I will be sitting at a game, and we’ll be watching somebody play. And other coaches will come up to me and say, “Well, there must be a great shooter playing in the next game if you’re here.”

Phil Martelli, the longtime St. Joseph’s coach, said to me at a recruiting event, “Hey, I just saw a guy that’s definitely a Notre Dame guy. He’s just going to Notre Dame. Can you just get it over with?”

I was sitting, watching Robby Carmody in the summer of 2017. Brad Brownell, the Clemson head coach, was there watching him play when he made a bunch of shots and he turned to me and said, “Carmody is out there playing and he looks a lot like Steve Vasturia. So you’re telling me I’ve got to deal with another Vasturia?”

...

During my introductory press conference at Notre Dame, Toni Ginnetti of the Chicago Sun-Times asked about this job being a stepping-stone. I said, “I hope I’m good enough to retire here.”

I always looked at it as a place you could be really good and stay—and not take another job. Maybe it didn’t exactly look like it when I showed up, right? But as I got into it more, I always felt there was a comfort level with the mission. I knew the kind of kids we were going to recruit. I understood all that.

I quickly understood our culture on campus and what kind of young men could fit into that culture. The kind of kids you get here is why you stay. I had Bonzie and Matt Farrell at breakfast one day during their senior seasons, just catching up. I’m talking to them like men. They’re just so refreshing to be around.

As I grew to know the culture, I grew to know some of the hurdles, but I never dwelled on what we didn’t have. Here’s what we’ve got. I think we’ve got great selling points, a Big East, ACC style of play. Let’s just grind. Let’s just work. The two athletic directors who I’ve been with have been really supportive in that aspect, always asking, “How can we help? What else do you need?”

As I got into years six, seven, and eight, it became a little challenging because those were NIT years. But then we started going back to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis and we have a system in place. Then the ACC kind of took it to another level of comfort. Why would I want to coach anywhere else? I turned 59 last spring and I’d love to keep coaching until I’m 65.

And the contract I signed in April 2018 gives me the chance to do that. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick and I started talking about this extension last summer. The contract runs through 2025, when I’ll be 66. Maybe then it’s time for something else. The goal was always to retire here. I casually said that the day of my opening press conference on July 14, 2000. You want to do a good enough job that this is the last stop. Even when we only made it to the NIT, I always said, “It’s a great situation. Don’t mess with it. Don’t overanalyze it and keep plugging.” I’m a Midwest guy now because, man, I’ve been out here so long.

...

So, what did you think? I know, that was just a short sample, but trust me, this book is a must read for any Notre Dame basketball fan! Good luck with the rest of your holiday shopping, and GO IRISH!

*This excerpt from Keeping It Loose: Patience, Passion, and My Life in Basketball by Mike Brey with John Heisler is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/KeepingItLoose.