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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish head to Duke for Brey’s last game at Cameron

Mike Brey and Mike Krzyzewski on a pickleball team at the Final Four? The possibility isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. 

“I haven’t really been able to talk to him since I made the announcement I was stepping down,” Brey said of the legendary former Duke coach who retired at the end of last season. “I’d love to pick his brain on advice,” he said, before adding that the pair would likely team up on the pickleball court at some point. He even joked that they might play at the Final Four in April. 

Brey and Krzyzewski go back a long way. Brey served as an assistant coach for Duke from 1987 to 1995, prior to taking a job as the head coach at Delaware, and eventually at Notre Dame in 2000. 

Tuesday night’s game at Cameron Indoor Stadium — likely Brey’s last at his former stomping grounds — carries many emotions for the longtime Irish head coach. 

“A lot of memories there,” Brey said. “That decision, that Mike hired me as a high school coach (36) years ago, jumpstarted, opened up everything for me.”

Brey certainly made many memories while at Duke. He was a part of two national titles, six Final Four appearances and two ACC Tournament championships. In his two decades at Notre Dame, however, he has made new ones on the opposite bench. 

Notre Dame is just 8-28 all-time against the Blue Devils, but six of those wins have come during Brey’s time in South Bend. One of the most memorable victories was a 95-91 road win in 2016, which was a big step towards the first of two consecutive Elite Eight appearances for the Irish. 

Bonzie Colson scored a career-high 31 points off the bench in that game, as the Irish scored 50 second-half points to down the Blue Devils. 

“Anytime you were able to beat them, especially when Mike was there, it gave our program great credibility,” Brey said. “To win one in there when the place is rocking is unbelievable.” 

The Irish returned home with the victory the last time they traveled to Durham in 2021, but it was a markedly different environment with no fans in the building. The place certainly will be rocking on Tuesday night. The so-called Cameron Crazies, one of the most passionate student sections in the country, have shown no sign of a drop-off this year with Jon Scheyer on the bench rather than Krzyzewski. 

“I’m glad our guys get to compete in there,” Brey said of the environment. “It’s a great opportunity.” 

Notre Dame won’t be expected to win Tuesday night — not after dropping yet another ACC game at home on Saturday to fall to 2-12 in the conference. Yet an upset victory that few saw coming could be a much-needed morale boost for the Irish as they hit the home stretch of a lost season. 

“If you could play well and steal a win Tuesday, it would heal a lot of wounds,” Brey said. 

It might also be the perfect way for Brey to say goodbye to a place that meant so much to him.