Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey spoke in Dayton as the Irish prepare for the first four game on Wednesday night.
Being in the NCAA Tournament:
“Absolutely honored to be here and to be part of it. We have missed it in recent years. And I missed it hopelessly. And to come back to it, we are delighted. We are honored. We haven’t overtested the seeds or anything like that.
“But I think we felt we had a pretty strong resume, finishing second in the league, that we were going to give it a shot and that’s all you can ask for.”
About Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell:
“This is my fifth Rutgers basketball coach I’ll coach against. The only program that’s had more coaches in my tenure is Notre Dame football. They’ve had six. (Laughs).
“I know this Rutgers program well. I know the game is not in the RAC. I have bad nightmares that come out of this. Steve Pikiell is one of the most gifted coaches in our profession. You know a little about my relationship with Chris Christie, Governor Christie. He was a guy from Delaware, and we knew each other at the time. His two daughters have been managers for me.
“When he called me and said we had a chance to get this guy Pikiell from Stony Brook, I said send the plane and give him 10 years. This guy will stabilize it and then he will build it. And he absolutely did. He’s an old school b-ball coach and he has the utmost respect for him. And he’s got a hell of a tough team that’s tough like him.
When you’re in the business, and ever since I’ve been in it, you watch and listen, especially when we – the pandemic has kept us from being on the road in the summer. It’s when you hang out with guys and you get to know them, and you sit at a game with them, and he looks at one guy and you look at another.
While playing against Pikiell at Stony Brook:
“I definitely remember him – he was at my alma mater in GW. When I was on the road asking how Foggy Bottom is doing. Always impressed with him. Impressed with the tenacity and strength that his band plays.
“And there was just consistency and stability. He is what he is every day. And that’s what we’re going to do. And that’s certainly what Rutgers needed at the time. And it was magic for them. And, again, I got a lot of Big East flashbacks watching their team play, seeing clips of the RAC, the badass, the physical guys, the old guys.
“We used to go up and down I-95. These are the guys from Seton Hall. They look like the Rutgers guys. Here they come, come our way, come our throat. So it was pretty cool to think back to the memories of the Big East with them.
On the emotions of returning to the Tournament:
“I missed the logos. I missed – yesterday we expanded on the song “One Shining Moment”. I missed all of that. I’m channeling all of that as much as I can and trying to help our guys with that, to take advantage of it.
“And even though we want to win and we’re going to be hungry, I don’t want us to be tense. I want us to smile a little when we play. I’ll be smiling on the sidelines tomorrow because those are opportunities you don’t get a lot playing in this thing.
On educating the team on the history of the top four:
“When I had them at my house on Sunday, you watch all the screenings. And the folks at Rutgers went through it with us. We’re here. Are we out, are we in. We’re all trying to wonder. And I had my assistant I said to print people who have used the first four over the past six, seven years as a springboard.
“And certainly UCLA and Mick Cronin last year beating Michigan State and moving on. I remember the VCU team because we were in Chicago with them when they kicked off from Chicago. We beat Akron, lost to Florida State. And there you go, God, they’re pretty good. And all of a sudden, they’re in.
“I just want them to have a bit of a point of reference. I told them, I said if we make it, we’ll fly straight to San Diego after the game and hang out and sleep is hugely overrated during the NCAA tournament.
On what Notre Dame has been working on since the ACC tournament:
“What we watched on Saturday was our 10 first half turnovers against Virginia Tech. We were very good taking care of the ball. It’s going to be a challenge tomorrow night, because these guys are tricky. They’re trick players, you know. They reach.
“It’s I-95, man. It’s like Riverside Church and the Gauchos. Ever watch them play in the summer? They pick dudes pockets from behind. I’ve been through it all and I watch and I go , Oh yeah.
“We have to be really good with the ball. And you can’t turn the ball around like that. We have been very effective offensively this year. We were smart about controlling the tempo. This is really going to be a key. And one of the keys will be whether you can keep your own guy, because those guys will attack you and they’ll take you out of the dribble. Can you stay ahead of your own guy and play one-on-one defense? »
Being a First Four team despite finishing second in the ACC:
“I was kidding, maybe I bewitched myself. A month ago, I said, I know ACC took a lot of water, I said, Am I in America East again? Am I in a single-bid league? In fact, I felt like I was in Eastern America, as everyone was talking. I said, we better get the only offer like I did when I was in Delaware those two years.
“You look and go, my God, we were 19-5 from Indiana, but I was mentally prepared, like, whatever came up on Sunday for the sake of the kids, because only Paul Atkinson played in this tournament – turn it and embrace it and be ready to go.
“Some of my assistants, I hear them talking, they’re 10 – and Rutgers is doing the same. Us and Rutgers. Every time you’re in there, you’re gonna wait a minute, that 10 seed, you know. Probably that we both say, Michigan, what? (Laughs) Anyway, we’re thrilled to be here, and I know Steve is, too.
On Rutgers guard Ron Harper Jr.:
” That’s a beautiful story. I remember a bit of him on the circuit and I was typical of what Steve did and we did it in a similar way. Maybe the guys who aren’t recruited at a very high level, you bring them into your program and improve them.
“And its core is that. And Ron is the epitome of that. I think he got into great shape. He got into great shape. But there is the sense of play, good size. And he won it all. He had to come grind to get there.
“Really, those two teams played last night, again, Rutgers had the experience last year. Hell, they were in the tournament when it closed. They were a three-year-old NCAA tournament team. And we lost a bit of momentum there when we were the first team out And I’ll tell you what, it stings, when you’re the first Anthony Grant in the corner, I’ll go squeeze it in my arms.
“We scratched and clawed to come back. But the two core children had to fight their way, fight their way to this. I think it’s a good story for both teams.
During the early exit from the ACC tournament, the team is hungry:
“I would think so. We were very disappointed with the way we played there. Come check out this team that beat us – funny story, when I hired Anthony Solomon here last spring, who was a key recruit for us, he told me to tell me about the league. I said Virginia Tech. What did he say? Duke – I said Virginia Tech.
“They got our number and they weren’t a good game for us. So we really respect them. But how disappointing us, our shot selection, our turnovers, being loose with the ball was. And that’s something we’ve addressed. And that’s something that, against a team that can turn you, we have to be really good with it.
On Blake Wesley showing no emotion on draft Sunday:
“It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? That’s a beautiful story. And Blake, I think Blake’s year was even better because he played against, and again tomorrow night, old guys all year. College basketball has aged because of the transfer gate and the granting of the extra year and two teams. But he’s a guy who came in at 18, and against a lot of old guards in the ACC, he was really good.
“He is the hardest on himself. So I want him to bounce and smile and not feel like he has the weight of the world. He doesn’t feel obligated to carry us. These elders really helped him. But you’re right, luckily our name came up in the first five minutes because I was in a tense locker room. I’ve never been tense – my house has never been so tense while we’re sitting here.
“I’m sitting here saying, what’s the talk if we don’t get in? ‘Cause there’s no way we’re playing in the NIT. There’s no way. There’s no way that I could have had these guys play in the NIT. And I know I probably shouldn’t say that because the NCAA owns it. There’s no way.
“So we pushed all the chips to the middle of the table and I was tight as a drum. That’s why I smoked a cigar after selection Sunday. I needed something.