Notre Dame men's basketball: Brey counters Krzyzewski stance

South Bend Tribune

He considers the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history, a man who has won 957 games and four national championships in 38 seasons, a friend and a mentor.

But there are times when Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey doesn’t agree with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Friday morning was one of those times.

Brey was at breakfast in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where he owns a summer home, when he learned of Krzyzewski’s comments made earlier in the week to the New York Post about Notre Dame joining the Atlantic Coast Conference after 18 years in the Big East.

It’s common knowledge in college basketball circles that Krzyzewski was not happy with the decision last fall of ACC commissioner John Swofford to extend an invitation to Notre Dame, which was able to keep its independent status in football, playing five games a year against ACC schools.

Each summer during the July recruiting period, and again at the Final Four each April, Brey and Krzyzewski go to dinner. At almost every sit-down for the last few years, conference realignment surfaced. Each time Brey, who spent eight seasons at Duke as Krzyzewski’s assistant, wondered about Notre Dame one day joining the ACC. Each time, Krzyzewski never budged – you can come, but you’d better bring football. Otherwise, you’re not in.

Now Notre Dame is in.

Krzyzewski was asked earlier this week by the Post about Notre Dame joining the ACC while remaining a football independent.

“I think you can’t do something for one that you’re not willing to do for all in these types of situations,” Krzyzewski told the Post. “I would never have accepted, personally, them coming in and not being totally in.”

Why not, wondered Brey.

“First of all, isn’t Mike Catholic?” Brey joked. “I feel I have to respond on behalf of my Irish. Come on, man. Come on. In this time of conference realignment, you’ve got to think outside the box and John Swofford did that. He got us and we’re in.

“Let’s wake up and smell the roses. This is a whole new era.”

Since the September announcement that Notre Dame was headed to the ACC, Brey has listened to the constant chatter of how the Irish were able to escape the sinking Big East, find a new conference home but still remain a football independent. He’s remained relatively quiet on the subject for the last nine months.

Then he heard of Krzyzewski’s comments.

“That’s been out there – ‘God, they got in, but they got in without bringing football,’” Brey said. “I’m like, ‘We’re in man, pat us on the back. We’re in the family.’”

In the Post Q&A, Krzyzewski looked at Notre Dame being allowed to keep its independent football status and wondered if Duke and North Carolina – the ACC’s gold standard for men’s basketball – should be allowed to “do something different.”

Brey believes they already do.

“They live in a whole different world,” Brey said of the two teams that have combined to win 36 ACC tournament titles with 33 Final Fours and nine national championships. “They’re on TV more than anyone. They get more exposure than any team in the league and rightfully so.

“They do kind of have their own world and they’ve earned that, just as we’ve earned remaining independent in football for now.”

Duke and Notre Dame will play once during the 2013-14 regular season in South Bend.

Brey believes that given the work of all its athletic teams - from men’s basketball to women’s basketball to soccer and beyond – Notre Dame has earned the right to stand alongside its new ACC colleagues without carrying a football asterisk.

“Give John Swofford a lot of credit for getting everyone to understand – get the Irish now,” Brey said. “There’s no question our brand will enhance the ACC as much as any brand currently in the league.

“Mike should just hug us and welcome us. Now let’s go make it the best league in the country.”

South Bend Tribune/JAMES BROSHER.Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey speaks to the media after a loss in a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Dayton, Ohio.