Head Coach Mike Brey Outlines Notre Dame Fighting Irish Basketball’s Summer Plans And Return Timeline
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Mike Brey Outlines Notre Dame Basketball’s Summer Plans, Return Timeline

Mike Brey wants to take no risks or get caught making hasty actions, especially when he has a test run unfolding on his own campus.

Just because the NCAA approves steps for summer basketball activities does not mean he’s going to institute them for his own team on the same timeline if he feels there would be too large a downside and not enough upside.

So when the NCAA announced in June that college basketball players could return to campus for voluntary workouts on July 1 and mandatory workouts could begin July 20, Brey unsurprisingly held off on calling his team back to Notre Dame’s campus in that window. It’s not pressing, he thought. He also wanted to see how Notre Dame football’s return unfolds before he brings his players back.

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Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey during practice
Brey isn’t rushing to bring his players back to campus. (Joe Raymond)

“I’ve tried to take the philosophy of not bringing our guys back until Aug. 1,” Brey said last month on ACC Network’s Packer And Durham show. “We moved our semester up to Aug. 10. My feeling was to let this football thing get going, and we’re all praying and crossing our fingers that it can go. That will be the barometer for us.

“[Director of athletics] Jack Swarbrick and I were talking about three weeks ago. Football is not only the test case for the other sports — basketball, winter sports, fall sports — football is the test case for if we’re going to start semesters on time with our regular students.

“If this can’t be managed on our campus the right way, there’s no way 7,000 students are showing up Aug. 10 to start school. Never has there been more riding on our football program.”

The football team reported back to campus by June 15, where they moved into the on-campus Morris Inn. The team was tested for COVID-19 that same week and began voluntary workouts June 22. Its initial test results revealed one positive case among players and staff.

Mandatory workouts begin July 13, and training camp starts Aug. 7. For football to start on time, players needed at least six weeks of conditioning work before beginning padded practices. Coaches and administrators around the country stressed the contact and full-speed nature of football would not be safe without the proper weight room and workout tune-up.

Basketball, though, requires less build up, and the season is still four-plus months away. Brey simply saw no need to get a few extra weeks on campus given the limitations his players would face there compared to their hometowns, where some gyms and training facilities have reopened.

“There are so many protocols and lockdown criteria on campus with our football guys,” Brey said. “Our guys at home are in a better routine right now. They’re able to get better access to the gym and strength training. And the one thing about basketball is we’re nimble. After four practices, our guys say, ‘We don’t want to practice anymore. When do we play North Carolina?’ Which is cool, and it may help us when we get to November.”

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Still, Brey hasn’t seen his team since March 12, the day the ACC Tournament was canceled. They left each other in dejected moods, their late-season surge into a likely NIT spot ended by once-in-a-century circumstances. Weekly Zoom meetings are no replacement for in-person team building either. Brey can see the effect of the layoff on his team through a computer screen.

“Our kids are really scarred and knocked back,” Brey said. “If we can get to some routine with our guys in August, it would be so helpful mentally. Everyone is knocked back on their heels, us included.”

Brey went nearly three months before seeing his staff in person. In early June, though, they began meeting for outdoor lunches on a weekly basis. Wednesday afternoons have become a cathartic release and a chance to feel normal.

“We crave interaction,” Brey said. “We were there for three hours [the first time]. It’s really therapy for all of us.”

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