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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Brey, graduate students prepare for final home game

23 seasons. 401 games at Purcell Pavilion. Countless memories. But is Mike Brey emotional as he prepares to coach his last home game in South Bend?

“Not at all,” Brey said Tuesday prior to practice. “I’ve mentally prepared myself for it, so I am going to embrace it as best possible and hopefully we play well against a really good team.”

Brey said 30 of his former players will be in attendance alongside players from previous eras of Notre Dame basketball. Brey’s friends and family will also be in attendance as the Irish take on No. 25 Pittsburgh on Wednesday night to close out Brey’s legendary tenure with Notre Dame. 

“I do think I’ve helped a lot of young people become men because they’ve told me that and their [parents] have told me that in the last month,” Brey said. “The emails and the texts that I’ve gotten from the heart from your former guys, that’s going to get emotional.” 

There is still more basketball to be played, the Irish take on Clemson on the road this weekend before continuing on to Greensboro for the ACC Tournament. But with virtually no postseason prospects, this game feels like it is the end of an era. 

And what an era it has been. From the more recent memory of knocking off Kentucky a year ago and watching the students storm the court to the five-overtime victory over Louisville in 2013, Purcell Pavilion’s court has been the site of untold moments and memories of Brey’s 23-year tenure. 

Once he sings his final alma mater on the court, and thanks as many of the regular fans as he can, Brey joked with the media that he would head over to the nearby Linebacker Lounge, which he has never been to in his time in South Bend. “There ain’t no curfew tomorrow,” he said. 

Perhaps lost in the shuffle of Brey’s final home game is that it is also Senior Night for one of the most prolific classes in Notre Dame history. The Irish will honor six graduate students Wednesday night. Guard Dane Goodwin and forward Nate Laszewki, in particular, have become stalwarts in the Irish lineup since their arrival in 2018. 

Robby Carmody came in as part of the same class but was never able to live up to his lofty expectations due to what seemed like one injury after another over the past five years. Carmody played three minutes off the bench against Wake Forest last weekend in only the third conference game of his career.

“In the midst of everything, that was really cool to see him against Wake Forest in an ACC game,” Brey said.

Carmody’s trajectory — through no fault of his own — mirrors that of Notre Dame as a program over the last five years. After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for three straight, including two Elite Eight appearances from 2015 to 2017, expectations were high for the Irish’s 2018 recruiting class. The class was ranked 15th in the nation according to 247 Sports. 

While some members of that class, notably Goodwin, Laszewski and Prentiss Hubb, who graduated a year ago, found unquestioned individual success in South Bend, as a whole, the group fell well short of what was expected of them. The Irish qualified for just one NCAA Tournament in five years, when they advanced to the Round of 32 as an 11-seed a year ago. 

With the three remaining members of that class graduating Wednesday represents the end of an era in South Bend in more ways than one. Not only will Notre Dame have a new coach next year, but the roster will be completely overhauled. 

The Irish will honor three other seniors who transferred into the program. Guard Cormac Ryan and guard Trey Wertz, who transferred from Stanford and Santa Clara, respectively, have each been key team members of the program for the past three seasons. Marcus Hammond joined the team more recently as a graduate transfer from Niagara this offseason. 

“I’d start six if I could,” Brey said of the squad. 

A win Wednesday night would go a long way towards giving Brey and the seniors a proper send-off for all they’ve accomplished in South Bend, particularly in a year in which victories have been nearly impossible for the Irish to come by over the past two months. 

But standing in the way of that goal is a formidable opponent. Pittsburgh broke into the AP Poll for the first time in seven years this week, following a torrid stretch that has seen them rise to the top of the conference standings. The Panthers have won eight of their last nine games and are currently in sole possession of first place in the ACC. 

To make matters worse for Notre Dame, Brey said Tuesday that star freshman guard JJ Starling will be unavailable for the second straight contest with a bruised knee, making an already thin Irish rotation even thinner. 

But win or lose, Brey will be soaking up every moment of his last game at Purcell Pavilion. “I’ve got no regrets,” he said. "I’ve been honored to be the guy here.”