Noie: Good call for Mike Brey to stall historic Notre Dame hoops road game

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Emptying the notebook with a few notes and quotes and news and views left behind or on the editing room floor over the last month …

The point guard is from there. The head coach and his associate head coach have deep roots there. The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament will be played there in March.

Anytime the Notre Dame men’s basketball team can get back to the Washington area for a game is a good time. But not at the expense of an opponent that had pointed to a non-conference contest this season with special significance.

The coronavirus pandemic won’t wreck this plan.

For the first time in school history, Notre Dame was to play a true road game at a historical black college when it visited Howard University in Washington come December. The agreement was born after Howard hired head coach Kenny Blakeney, set to start his second season with the Bison. Blakeney was recruited to Duke by Irish head coach Mike Brey, a native of Rockville, Md. Blakeney has former Irish point guard Eric Atkins, who hails from nearby Columbia, Md., on his coaching staff. As a thanks for hiring Atkins, and to help Blakeney build interest in the program, Brey agreed to bring the Irish to Burr Gymnasium, Howard’s 2,700-seat on-campus arena.

Thanks to the pandemic and the effects that it may or may not have on the college basketball season (stay tuned), Brey preferred to not play Howard, at least, not now. Not because of travel restrictions or health concerns or anything corona-related. Brey didn’t want to play at Howard if its fan base wasn’t able to enjoy everything about the experience. The game would’ve sold out. It would’ve been a big deal. Teams from the ACC, heck, teams from any power conference, rarely visit Howard. They just don’t.

Notre Dame will be the second power-five team ever to play at Howard and the first since Oregon State made a second trip in 2010-11.

Brey could’ve kept the game this season, but felt it would cheat the D.C. fans. He made Blakeney an offer — take one of the open non-conference “buy” games that Notre Dame still needed to fill this season, then push the Irish visit to D.C. to 2021-22. That way, Howard will have its home game against Notre Dame, and have it in front of a full house.

The way it should be.


Given the uncertain financial future of college athletic departments, Notre Dame will consider something this basketball season that it hasn’t done since the early 2000s — travel to road games via commercial flights.

Notre Dame often has gone commercial to far-off places. One of the odder trips unfolded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in November 1998. With the Irish on a layover heading home from the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, power forward Hans Rasmussen decided right there to transfer. When the Irish flew Delta from a 2009 league game in Cincinnati to Los Angeles to play UCLA, there was Brey fast asleep in the last seat in the last row next to the lavatory.

Prior to going charter, it was common to see the Irish traveling party hustling through airports to make connections or cooling their heels at gates during layovers. At Pittsburgh International Airport, the food court’s long-gone Panda Express was a popular spot for the players.

And it was surreal to watch former Irish coach Matt Doherty walk the aisle of the team’s USAir commercial flight to Pittsburgh in 2000 and hand players lunches from a cardboard box. He even offered one to a member of the media.

For the record, the writer declined the pre-made ham and cheese sandwich and bag of chips.


On the college swim grind basically year round — which means practice and meets and conditioning sessions and travel and offseason workouts and more of the same, former Riley High School standout Madison Blakesley embraced the chance to unplug for a while.

She hadn’t done that in, like, forever. Even when she was at Riley, Blakesley always was swimming, always training, always conditioning, always getting up early, always doing something swim related.

The pandemic put an end to all of that.

“At the start, I was like, ‘Oh, a break will be good,’” said Blakesley, who recently completed her sophomore year at Arizona. “I’ll never get a break like this in my four years of collegiate swimming. It will be good.”

That was then. Now nearly three months into everything from stay-at-home orders to quarantines to social distancing, Blakesley is beyond ready to get back into some semblance of a routine.

Short of the broken arm she suffered in eighth grade, Blakesley believes this is the longest she’s ever gone without being in a regulation pool. The one at her friend’s house is welcome relief, but it’s a little on the small side.

Blakesley’s ready to return to the pool.

“I’ve gone a little crazy,” she said.


Former Penn High School left-handed pitcher Ryan Lynch was quietly confident when he went and did his job. He rarely showed much emotion.

But under that coolness, Lynch had a soft spot for something that turned him into somebody else. His good friend and former teammate, C.J. Kavadas, saw a side that few did. He’d see it on those early mornings when the Kingsmen were scheduled for a winter workout before school. It was cold outside. It was dark. It was hard to get the body going and juices flowing at that hour.

Lynch would hop in the car, take a few sips of Sprite and the switch was flipped. It was like he’d just guzzled rocket fuel.

“The kid loves his Sprite,” Kavadas said. “You give him a Sprite and he’s bouncing off the walls. The thing is, it doesn’t even have caffeine in it.

“We had no clue why he was like that.”

Whatever the reason, it worked. Lynch went 20-3 as a pitcher and hit .378 as an outfielder. The Gatorade Player of the Year will attend Notre Dame, where they better have some Sprite nearby.


You know what they say about Father Time when it comes to old guys trying to still play a sport when their best days are over.

He’s undefeated.

Former Riley High School basketball standout Marcus Wilson nods in agreement. Wilson had a nice run from first team all-state as a high school senior to a four-year starter at Evansville to scoring 2,053 career points to being honored as one of the 50 greatest players in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Now 42 years old, Wilson admitted that his playing days are done. They ended after he ruptured an Achilles tendon three years ago.

“I can still shoot it with the best of them,” Wilson said.

Truth. Now executive director of the Bayer YMCA in St. Louis, Wilson said every once in a while, he’ll showcase that stroke. He’ll playfully wager a kid that he can make 25 shots from beyond the 3-point line. Wilson then makes shot after shot while the kid stands there baffled.

“I’m still good for about 23-of-25 from 3,” Wilson said.

Wilson also recently became a grandfather. His oldest son, Isaiah, is in the Air Force. He met someone and well, nine months later…

“Things happen,” said Wilson, who joked that he’s not to be called Grandpa until he turns 50. “It’s pretty cool. I just want to help him be the best father he can be.”


Mosquitoes have nothing on coronavirus.

Edwardsburg High School athletic director Kevin Dean can attest to that.

These have been strange times, odd times, even difficult times for area high school athletic directors. The pandemic wiped out the end of winter sports, scrapped all of spring and may linger through fall. That’s left athletic directors like Dean wondering exactly how sports — especially football — will look come August.

There’s a chance that kids can return to school for summer conditioning programs in July. There’s also a chance that gets pushed back. Nobody knows, and neither does Dean.

“It’s just hard,” he said.

Last fall, the Eddies’ sports seasons was threatened by the Eastern Equine Encephalitis outbreak across Michigan. Concerns over that, spread by infected mosquitoes, forced schools to juggle start times of fall sports. It was a hassle. It was a headache. But …

“This makes them look like nothing,” said Dean, who often finds himself going to the office at school a couple times a week because, well, he’s tired of sitting around home. “It was such a pain in the butt at the time and we were griping about a million mosquitoes.

“I kind of laugh, like, ‘Man, I thought those mosquitoes were going to be the craziest part of my school year.’”

Not even close.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey could’ve kept a visit to Howard on the schedule this season, but pushed it back a year so the Bison could maximize the crowd experience of seeing the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to play in Burr Gymnasium.