SOUTH BEND - Mike Brey is getting back to his roots so to speak, and he couldn't be more thrilled.
With the announcement Wednesday that Notre Dame would be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Fighting Irish men's basketball coach is looking forward to the move for a number of reasons.
“I'm an ACC guy at heart,” Brey explained. “I grew up not far from Cole Fieldhouse in Maryland and then spent eight years (as an assistant) at Duke.”
Brey traveled with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick to the news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. for the announcement and the emotions began to flood over him
“Being down there today on 'Tobacco Road' brought back a lot of memories,” Brey said. “I'm excited about taking our program forward. The bar (of competition) has been raised, but I think that is a good thing.”
Swarbrick met with all of his coaches early in the morning before flying to North Carolina and the acceptance by the coaches – and also the student-athletes that Swarbrick has spoken with – have had a commonality.
“I met this morning with our coaches and informed them for the first time of (joining the ACC),” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “Their reaction was very positive.”
As rumors circulated over the past year about where the Irish would eventually land in the ever-changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics, Brey had just one request for his boss.
“With our east coast ties,” Brey said, “I told Jack when a lot (of information) was swirling, 'Jack, just keep us east, man. Just keep us east. I'll take either league, but just keep us east.'”
Brey is very knowledgeable of the league because of his past, but he isn't real familiar with his counterparts because of the turnover in coaches that the ACC has seen in recent years.
“It's an interesting league in that you have (Duke coach) Mike Krzyzewski, (North Carolina coach) Roy Williams, and (Florida State coach) Leonard Hamilton, kind of the mainstays that have really been delivering and doing it,” Brey said. “Then you have a lot of younger guys building their programs. It's an interesting element. I think that we go in with great momentum.”
One of those “younger guys” is Clemson coach Brad Brownell, and he concurs that Notre Dame is going to present a challenge to an already difficult league.
“(Adding Pitt, Syracuse and now Notre Dame) solidifies the fact that the ACC is the premier basketball conference in the country,” Brownell said. “You've just taken three of the better programs out of the Big East and added them to what we already feel was a very strong league. It is a group of schools here that have a lot of tradition of success and there is unbelievable enthusiasm and excitement. Guys will be able to use this in every way, whether it is selling tickets or in recruiting."
As an Indiana native, Brownell has followed the Irish under Brey and is of the belief that Notre Dame will bring positive aspects to the conference on and off of the basketball court.
“Mike Brey has done a terrific job,” Brownell said. “He's built a program that has been consistently successful and been one of the most successful programs in the Big East over the past 7 to 10 years. Notre Dame is a national brand, everybody knows that. They have alumni from all different parts of the country and that will help bring enthusiasm whenever they play on somebody else's campus.”
Brey said on Wednesday that recruiting “would get a shot in the arm” by joining the new league. One of his current verbal commitments expressed enthusiasm with the change, though New Haven High School senior wing V.J. Beachem said he was satisfied with his selection regardless of what league the Irish would play in.
“I found out today at school,” Beachem said. “My initial reaction was 'Wow' at how quickly that it happened. It's a great move, but it is still the same coach and same program.”
Beachem lamented that he may have lost the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden (at the Big East Conference Tournament), but Brey said don't be so quick to think that.
“I think that we are going to have to go up and down the eastern seaboard,” Brey said about the ACC Tournament. “That tournament is going to move. I think Washington, D.C., Jack and I talked on the plane today, may be a place to house it.”
As much as this impacts the various universities from an athletic standpoint, Brownell echoed the statements made by all the involved parties that this was just as good of fit from an academic standpoint as well.
“I certainly feel like Notre Dame is the type of university and athletic program that fits in with the ACC model,” Brownell said. “Our league is very proud academically of the reputations of the schools within our league. We look for schools of similar values. But at the same time, we are looking for schools that have had national success in their athletic programs.”