Mike Brey heeds coaching staff's advice to go west and find a few good prospects
Who says you can’t teach an old college basketball coach new tricks?
Or something like that.
For the longest time when it came to scouting and signing high school players, the recruiting rulebook for Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey was simple – pull out the dog-eared Rand McNally road atlas (remember those?) and mark the Interstate 95 route that stretches from Maine to Florida in highlighter.
Stay that course, and Brey should/could/would find a few prospects who could play.
Like when he landed the then-bespectacled Bonzie Colson from a prep school in Rhode Island. Or when he signed Zach Auguste and future NBA pro Pat Connaughton out of Massachusetts. He can thank I-95 for finding a little-recruited guard out of New Jersey by the name of Matt Farrell. In 2010, he landed two guards from the shadow of the nation’s capital in Eric Atkins (Columbia, Maryland) and Jerian Grant (Bowie, Maryland), whom he nicknamed his “BW Parkway guards.” Couple years back, I-95 delivered another guard from the DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia) in Prentiss Hubb. Last year, Notre Dame landed Maine native and current freshman power forward Dom Campbell.
More:A lot to like/see second time around for Notre Dame men's basketball
When it came time to spend time in open gyms each fall, Brey and his coaching staff could often be found up and down and around I-95. It was a recruiting lifeline.
That changed during this last recruiting cycle. After decades of zigging up I-95, Brey zagged. He went the other direction to go and explore Route 66. He went to time zones where he’s seldom gone. Instead of retreating back East and his comfort zone, Brey ventured west to land a pair of prep seniors in guard Parker Friedrichsen (Bixby, Oklahoma) and swingman Brady Dunlap (Studio City, California).
Both, along with local guard Markus Burton (Mishawaka) signed their letters of intent with Notre Dame when the early period commenced last week.
Friedrichsen is the first player that Brey has signed/recruited out of Oklahoma. Former Irish power forward/future assistant coach Ryan Humphrey, a native of Tulsa, committed to play for Notre Dame as an Oklahoma transfer under former Irish coach Matt Doherty. Dunlap is the third player from California (Joe Harden, Rex Pflueger) that Brey has signed during 23 seasons in South Bend.
Why go to those places? Why go there now?
“A great staff,” Brey said. “I would put that on the staff that I had that did a really good job of evaluating. We’ve not done much out West, but Brady started coming our way a little bit. Parker was a kid we always thought was a great fit.”
No matter where they call home, Friedrichsen and Dunlap follow the Brey recruiting blueprint — focus on prospects with high basketball IQs, who know the game and, by the way, who also might/have to contribute as freshmen.
Doesn’t matter if you’re from the East, Midwest, Midlands or the Coast, if you want to play, you had to look hard at Notre Dame. The roster currently carries six fifth-year guys. Five of those old guys are guards. At least four of those guards will be gone next season. If you’re a guard looking for immediate playing time, well, sit right down next to the old coach and learn how they could help.
It was a factor with the 6-foot-7, 205-pound Dunlap. It was a factor with the 6-4, 165-pound Friedrichsen. It was a factor.
“They can also do the math that there’s a lot of guards leaving the building,” Brey said. “There’s playing time available when you look at our roster. ‘Oh, he’s gone. They need me. I can play.’”
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What new is next for the old ball coach?
Jumping on a plane that first day of the September evaluation period and pointing it toward Tulsa and Los Angeles — the first two spots Brey hit — happened kind of/sort of by accident.
In a perfect recruiting world, Notre Dame would’ve liked/hoped/wanted to land power forwards Xavier Booker (Indianapolis) and TJ Power (Worcester, Massachusetts) to go with Burton, whose recruiting ramped up over the course of about a week in late July and ended with a commitment. It originally was penciled to be a class of Booker and Power and Burton and maybe another guard.
So much for that plan.
Booker chose Michigan State. Power picked Duke. When July became August and August crept toward September with only Burton committed, Brey and his staff had to dust off Plan B. That led them to Oklahoma and Friedrichsen. That led them to Southern California and Dunlap.
“You start to zero in on a TJ Power and a Xavier Booker, all of a sudden that starts going another direction,” Brey said. “I may not be as plugged in to those other guys. Those (assistants) are and you make a quick turn and they kind of turn me loose on it. You’re able to kind of move.
“It is interesting to see us going west for this class.”
Brey flew west for Dunlap and Friedrichsen, then drove east for Burton, who became a must-get guy the more the Irish coach watched the Penn High School product produce in the summer. He and associate head coach Anthony Solomon were in the bleachers that Sunday in June when Burton went for 35 points in a 15-point win over Booker’s Indianapolis Cathedral team.
Brey saw enough that day to want to offer Burton right then and there. Solomon, as is his nature, spoke as the voice of recruiting reason.
“He goes, ‘Nope, nope, nope. Let’s go watch him in Kansas City first,’” Brey said. “I wanted one more peek at him in Kansas City.”
Burton’s recruitment basically ended at halftime of an AAU game in Missouri. Brey and Solomon were sold. An initial offer was extended. A campus visit was set. An official offer followed. Three days after the visit, the 5-11, 170-pound Burton committed. From Devin Cannady (Princeton) to Jaden Ivey (Purdue) to a pair that picked Notre Dame in Demetrius Jackson and Blake Wesley, there’s been a consistent flow of really good local guards.
Brey believes Burton’s next.
“I told our guys, ‘Hey, if it’s close, we’re taking him,’” Brey said. “I think he’s going to be really good.”
According to 247sports, Notre Dame has a recruiting class that ranks No. 22 in the nation. It considers Burton and Friedrichsen four-star prospects while Dunlap, who missed time on the AAU evaluation circuit because of an ankle injury, is a three-star. Rivals.com has Notre Dame’s class ranked No. 36, with all three prospects ranked as three stars.
All are Irish thanks to Brey’s willingness to (finally) try something different. He did the same on the basketball court last year when he committed more to a defense-first mentality. The result was 24 wins and a return trip to NCAA tournament. This year, he recruited out of his comfort zone.
What’s coming next season? A rotation that rolls deeper than seven?
Now that would be a trick.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
WHO: Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Southern Indiana (1-1)
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).
WHEN: Wednesday at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: Plenty available.
TV: ACC Network.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com/tnoieNDI
NOTING: Former Youngstown State guard Jelani Simmons scored 18 points with five rebounds, three assists and two steals and guard Gary Solomon added 16 points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s 71-53 home victory over Southern Illinois. The game featured six ties and 10 lead changes. The Screamin’ Eagles placed four in double figures for points, shot 52.1 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from 3 and 65.2 percent from the foul line. Southern Indiana finished (+8) in rebounding, 19 fastbreak points and 32 points in the paint. … Southern Indiana opened the season with a six-point loss at Missouri. … Simmons (20.0) leads four players averaging at least 12 points a game. … Southern Indiana is a school with an enrollment of 9,700 located in Evansville. … Three players return off last year’s team that finished 18-8 overall, 12-6 and fifth place in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. This is Southern Indiana’s first season as a member of Division I after the previous 43 in the GLVC as a Division II member. … Southern Indiana went to 29 Division II national tournaments, including four Final Fours. It won the 1995 Division II national championship while coached by Bruce Pearl, now at Auburn. Pearl spent nine seasons as USI head coach. … With a roster of eight transfers, Southern Indiana was picked in preseason to finish seventh in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference. … Under NCAA Division I regulations, the Screamin’ Eagles are ineligible to compete in the NCAA tournament or postseason National Invitation Tournament until 2026-27. … Notre Dame is 6-1 all-time against the OVC with the loss to Murray State in 1981. … These teams have never met. … This is the second of three games in six days for Notre Dame, which beat Youngstown State, 88-81, at home on Sunday. … Notre Dame opened the week ranked first in the Atlantic Coast Conference in field goal percentage (.563) and free throw percentage (87.5). It was 15th – last in the league – in scoring defense (78.5 ppg.), field goal percentage defense (.485), steals (3.5) and turnover margin (-4.50). … Irish super senior Nate Laszewski opened the week ranked fourth in the ACC in scoring (21.0 ppg.) and second in rebounding (11.0 rpg.).
QUOTING: "It's the way of the world of college basketball. It's going to be hard. Anybody on our schedule's going to be hard. Every game's an ACC game now because everything's part of your (NCAA tournament) resume."
-Irish coach Mike Brey on playing non-league games.