Noie: Antoni Wyche hits ground on full sprint with coaching return to Notre Dame
Nostalgia knocked on his third floor Rolfs Hall office door several times over the last few frantic weeks, but former Notre Dame guard and first-year men’s basketball assistant coach Antoni Wyche was too busy to bother.
Wyche wanted to answer, to take a step back into the past, maybe head from Rolfs next door to Purcell Pavilion and look around. Peek inside The Pit, the team’s old basement practice facility where Wyche dropped a lot of sweat — and a lot of buckets — during his college days. That’s where the Irish did a lot of their prep work, right there with those red foam high-jump mats piled in a corner and served as seats for practice visitors. Right there with boxing practice often unfolding next door.
Wyche wanted to walk into the main arena and soak everything in. Purcell Pavilion looked a lot different during his playing days. It wasn’t even named Purcell. It had multi-colored seats in the lower bowl and bleachers up top. There were a few nights when the place rocked, but also many when it kind of slumbered.
Still, those were good days for Wyche, whose game, like his jumper, was so smooth. A 1999 graduate, he scored 825 points (7.6 ppg.) with 222 rebounds (2.1) and 193 assists in 108 career games, including two seasons as a starter, for the late John MacLeod. The former team captain didn’t know then that in 20-plus years he’d be back as an assistant coach. There he was last week in the team’s still-somewhat shiny and new practice facility doing his part to put Notre Dame back on the college basketball map after the last four flat on the mat.
Stop to think about where he was and where he is now? Wyche had no time for that.
“I’ve been on the go since (mid-July),” he said. “It’s going a mile a minute.”
Wyche likely moved twice that speed. He didn’t arrive on campus after the official hiring process had run its proper course until July 5. He coached up the Irish for a few days, then hit the road to recruit for the first time with the logo of his alma mater on his polo shirt. After a couple days on the road, he was back on campus for a couple more, then out again to recruit. The cycle repeated itself up until last week when both summer school and the evaluation period ended.
Only then would it give Wyche time to settle in and understand that this is all happening. For real. At last.
There’s still the move to make from upstate New York after spending the last two seasons as an assistant at Siena. There’s the house in Michiana to move into before Wyche’s two daughters start school in the middle of August. That will leave Wyche and his wife, Jill, also a Notre Dame graduate, time to look at one another and smile and say, yeah, we’re here.
“Everybody’s excited to be back,” said the 43-year-old Wyche. “It’s kind of been in the works for a little while.”
Make that a long while.
Back to the Bend
Having played four years at Notre Dame before setting out to play professionally overseas at six different stops, Wyche never planned to get into college coaching. It just kind of happened after wondering what to do next when his pro playing days ended.
If coaching was the path he’d go, he’d go all the way. From the ground floor up. He spent 10 seasons in the Patriot League at Lehigh, then two at Siena. His coaching path never crossed with Notre Dame during the regular season. But Wyche often would see Irish coach Mike Brey out on the recruiting trail every July. Over the past decade, he’d plant a little South Bend seed.
If there was ever any opening at Notre Dame, Wyche would say to Brey, keep him in mind.
“I’ve always followed the program,” he said. “If there was any way I could help, I wanted to be a part of this.”
When late winter became early spring and Brey remained serious about adding fresh voices and perspective and direction to his staff, the wheels started to turn. Brey knew he was going to bring back Anthony Solomon as associate head coach. Needing to fill another vacancy, Brey asked Solomon for his opinion. Solomon’s an assistant lifer. He has been with the game's grinders on the recruiting circuit. Who’s a sort of younger version of himself?
Solomon’s first suggestion — his only suggestion — was to go and get Wyche.
“We conspired on Tone,” Brey said.
Conspired before everything had to be kept quiet through the hiring process. It was known around the program since late May that Wyche was the guy, but he didn’t officially become that guy until early July.
Brey loves that Wyche had to pay his dues at his previous two coaching stops. He was hungry then. He’s hungry now. He knows how to grind and loves the grind. That’s what this staff needs.
“He had to bust his (butt) at Lehigh, bust his (butt) at Siena,” Brey said. “Everybody knows him in the profession. He knows (freaking) everybody.”
Wyche brings a quiet energy/sense of work to the staff. He’s not as vocal or as direct as Solomon and doesn’t have the bark of fellow assistant Ryan Humphrey, but he gets his points across. Quietly. Confidently. Consistently. He’s still finding his voice on when to say something, but the guys he’s coaching already are listening.
There’s a different energy around Rolfs. Around the practice court. Around the meeting room. Around everything. Wyche is part of it.
“It’s been very good for me,” Brey said. “I needed that.”
Wyche worked mainly with the guards in July.
“He’s been a great help for me getting my game right,” said senior point guard Prentiss Hubb. “He knows a lot about the game and has put us through a lot of great workouts. He can help elevate our game.”
Help being the operative word. Wyche still is settling in and likely will be as fall becomes winter and winter becomes spring. He’s here to help. In whatever ways he can. He’ll coach guys up. He’ll offer feedback. He’ll speak up. He’ll carry his share of the load.
“I’ve had blood, sweat and tears here for four years,” he said. “It’s been a great university and experience for me. I just wanted to get back and have an opportunity for these young me to experience it all.”
The experience for this team and this program at this time is way different than it was for Wyche when he played. Notre Dame now boasts of one of the best practice facilities in the country. It’s won in the Big East. It’s won in the Atlantic Coast Conference. There’s no more split practice time in The Pit. No more arena locker room with live wires hanging down in it as was the case for one summer.
Those were tough days, but days that didn’t deter Wyche from working to be better today than he was the previous 24.
“We still had enough,” he said. “I’m a firm believer with you go with what you’ve got.”
When the interview/application process was about complete and all signs pointed Wyche back to Indiana, he reached out to several coaching mentors, including Iowa coach and former Irish assistant Fran McCaffery. They all offered the same feedback.
“They were like, ‘You’re more than ready,’” Wyche said. “’It’s time. Make it happen.’”
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI