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September 13, 2012
Mike Brey won’t need a GPS when the Notre Dame men’s basketball team enters the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Raised in the shadow of Cole Field House in College Park, Md., and as an assistant coach in Durham, N.C., under legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Brey still has footprints along Tobacco Road.
“I’m an ACC guy at heart,” smiled Brey Wednesday following the announcement of Notre Dame’s move to the ACC in all sports but football and hockey.
“The last couple days, I’ve had a little bit of mixed emotions because there’s no question we’ve really built an identity in the Big East. Our program is really respected and we have great momentum.
“Having said that, the opportunity to go to the ACC is a great, exciting new challenge. It comes at a real key time for our program and for me and my career. The bar has been raised, but I think that’s a good thing.”
Whether it’s the 2013-14 or 2014-15 season when the Irish join the ACC, Brey will be one of the most tenured coaches in the league after Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton.
“You have the mainstays who really have been delivering and doing it, and then you have a lot of younger guys building their programs,” Brey said. “So it’s an interesting element. I think we go in with great momentum, but we’re very well aware of the challenge.
“The moniker the Big East had the last couple of years - eight bids, nine bids, 10 bids -- that’s going to flip to the ACC. It’s been good to be in a league where half the league gets bids. Moving forward, that’s what the ACC is going to become.”
Brey believes his program - and his personnel - is well positioned to make the transition from the Big East to the ACC.
“I told Jack (Swarbrick) back when a lot was swirling and the Big 12 was (a possibility), ‘Just keep us east, man, just keep us east. I’ll take either league, but keep us east.’ So the fact that we stayed east is very, very important for our program.
“With our momentum and how we play, we’re a great fit. We play a lot more alike schools in that league than we do in the Big East. Maybe the advantage in the Big East is we are so different with our skill level. We spread you out a little bit. But there’s a lot of skill like we have in that league.”
A top priority for Brey off the court as he prepares his program to enter the ACC is a state-of-the-art practice facility. The Irish long ago outgrew The Pit in the Joyce Center, a postage-stamp sized gymnasium fit for recreation league play. They also currently have to share the Purcell Pavilion hardwood with the women’s basketball program.
“We have to have that now,” Brey said. “We need a practice facility built even more so now. From a recruiting standpoint, but also being able to train our guys at a higher level. A practice facility is as much for your current guys as it is for bells and whistles for recruiting.
“(We need) for our players to be able to get in there at all hours, and for us to have the privacy to get out there with them because we have more summer access to our players now. That’s a project that we’ve been committed to. I told Jack we’ve got to meet with some benefactors at some football games. We’re ready to roll.”
Brey said he’d begin discussions soon with coaches at places like Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown and St. John’s - all Catholic institutions - as potential non-league games. As a member of its new conference, the Irish will be part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and Brey expects to continue participating in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis in December, which this year pits the Irish against Purdue.
Although Notre Dame could remain a member of the Big East in basketball for this season as well as next, Brey admitted that he’ll keep an eye on the ACC action this winter.
“What are they building? What do they play?” said Brey as his thoughts drifted to future ACC opponents. “I’ve got to get a grasp of that over the next year.”
Road games in the ACC are more difficult, Brey said, because all of the teams in the conference play in on-campus facilities while often times in the Big East, the Irish play in NBA arenas where Notre Dame fans have a tendency to take over.
One thing Brey won’t be doing once the Irish join the ACC is making sure the Joyce Center maintenance crew is up-to-date in snow removal equipment.
“Any school south of Maryland, when they come in to our place in January and February, we will not be shoveling the parking lot or the driveways, just to get you accustomed to what goes on here,” Brey laughed.
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