Notre Dame coach Mike Brey bothered by ACC schools' problems

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

He can be as accommodating as any college basketball coach in the country, but even Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has his interview limits.

Those likely will be tested Wednesday during Operation Basketball, the spiffy name for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 54th annual 8 ½-hour all-day basketball bonanza featuring coach and player interviews, a luncheon and forum with league commissioner John Swofford held at a swanky hotel in downtown Charlotte, N.C.

Prior to hopping the school plane Tuesday afternoon with Brey and senior power forward Zach Auguste, junior guard Demetrius Jackson was reminded to pack a pair of nice shoes for dinner later that night with his fellow ACC players.

Brey likely reminded himself to pack some patience. The coach figured that it would wear thin Wednesday while being asked questions that concern everything but basketball.

Specifically, the current and future status of three of the league’s highest-profile teams — Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse — and their Hall-of-Fame coaches.

Each institution is currently dealing with issues away from the basketball arena. They include academic and extra-benefit violations (Syracuse), bogus classes and grades for student-athletes (North Carolina) and most recently at Louisville, escorts hired by a former basketball staff member to entertain and lure recruits to campus over a four-year period, which includes the 2013 national championship season.

Brey expects to be asked his thoughts about each.

“I probably will snap after the third question, like, 'What are we doing here?'” Brey said only half-jokingly following Tuesday morning’s practice. “I’ve already rehearsed my answer, like, I’m willing to talk about Notre Dame basketball and that’s all I’m talking about.”

Orange coach Jim Boeheim, who sour-pussed his way through last year’s media session over the school's impending meeting with the NCAA, is expected to sit out the first nine conference games (which includes a visit from Notre Dame on Jan. 28) stemming from sanctions handed down late last season. Boeheim plans to appeal the suspension.

Louisville announced last week that after advice from university legal counsel, coach Rick Pitino would not attend Operation Basketball, yet two players who have not played a single regular-season game for the Cardinals — fifth-year transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis — would.

And nobody knows what will happen with Roy Williams and North Carolina, picked by some in preseason as the nation's No. 1 team and possible favorite to win the ACC, over the ongoing investigation into the issues there. That investigation has stretched for two years with no real resolution.

Three Hall-of-Fame coaches with Hall-of-Shame issues.

In those quiet moments, Brey is bothered by the problems of his coaching colleagues.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Brey said. “Our profession has taken a hit. Again.

“Every time we want to talk about how we’re doing things the right way, we get enough high-profile cases that make fans go, ‘What’s going on in college basketball?’”

Brey often wonders himself when he sees still another Hall of Fame coach, Southern Methodist’s Larry Brown, in more trouble with the NCAA. Brown had issues at his previous two college coaching stops (Kansas, UCLA). This time, his program’s problems (multiple NCAA violations including academic fraud) will keep Warsaw native Nic Moore and the Mustangs from postseason play come spring.

And when he first heard of the charges levied against Louisville, which has become a basketball rival with Notre Dame in recent seasons, Brey wondered if Pitino should just step aside.

What kind of scandal might drop next?

“It’s discouraging,” Brey said. “It really is.”

Discouraging in that Brey will walk Wednesday morning into the Ritz-Carlton lobby proudly sporting his ACC tournament championship ring, excited to learn where his conference colleagues will pick Notre Dame in the preseason poll, energized to see what the Irish can do coming off a 32-6 season that saw them get to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight for the first time since 1979. He wants to talk about getting back to that point while continuing to chase the school’s first Final Four since 1978.

He knows better what direction many queries will go. They may deal more with strippers than scorers.

Anything good about the game takes a backseat to the bad.

“The profession takes a hit and the product takes a hit,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good things going, but you know what, we can’t really fly that flag right now.

“Discouraging and frustrating after being in the profession 30 years.”

Captains named

Brey announced following Tuesday's 7 a.m. practice that senior reserve forward Austin Burgett will join starters Auguste and Jackson as team captains for the 2015-16 season. The Irish had only one captain - former swingman Pat Connaughton - last season.

Captains were chosen by a player vote. It's the first time any of the three have been captains.

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Notre Dame coach Mike Brey watches his team during practice. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ