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48 Hours With the Most Underrated Coach in College Basketball

Time:2017-03-09 03:45Shoes websites Click:

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Sporting the look of a guy who just dominated a rec league game, Mike Brey sits decked out in running shoes, jogging pants, and a long-sleeve waffle T-shirt. He appears impossibly relaxed for a guy riding a four-game losing streak and sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble in early February. Facing the entrance of his regular breakfast spot near campus, he takes stock of his usual order: three poached eggs, a side of blueberries, and bacon — extra crispy. He drinks iced tea that’s brewed extra strong and stored in a special pitcher just for him. Between sips, he flashes the full-toothed smile that regularly makes appearances during the most critical moments of high-profile games. It’s earned him the title of “loosest coach in America.”

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Notre Dame’s most recent loss came to 12th-ranked North Carolina. In the moments before tipoff, star forward Bonzie Colson realized he needed to relieve himself at a urinal. He returned to the huddle, Brey stared him down and asked: “Did you wipe?”

But it’s more than just good humor that sets Brey apart: His in-game coaching style is more laid back than anyone else’s you’ll see, evidenced most clearly during a five-overtime win over Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad four years ago. He treated the extra 25 minutes like they were a joy ride in a Lamborghini, while a joyless Pitino stalked the sidelines unleashing a barrage of profanity even a novice lip-reader could decipher. “They tie themself up in knots,” Brey says of his players. “It’s my job to untie the knots.”

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His unorthodox style has guided Notre Dame to Elite 8 appearances in each of the last two years, a feat no other school in the country managed to match. The Irish won the 2015 ACC Tournament, beating bluebloods Duke and North Carolina in the final two rounds. Before Notre Dame’s move to the ACC in 2013, Brey won Big East Coach of the Year three times, and he took every major national Coach of the Year award in 2012. Yet the third-longest-tenured coach in major college basketball remains the most underrated in his sport — and maybe even all of American sports.

As Brey finishes his breakfast, he rarely mentions Notre Dame’s game against Wake Forest later that night, or the mounting pressure to turn things around. He’s confident in a game plan he expects will derail the Demon Deacons’ two-game winning streak. Instead he banters with the restaurant owner, who asks how he is doing. “Good, man,” Brey responds, “Just trying to bounce back.”

“I haven’t been following,” replies the owner. “Have we lost a couple?”

They have. And despite Brey’s reputation for rolling with the punches, it’s wearing on him.

*****

Twenty-four hours earlier, nearly to the minute, Brey is inconsolably agitated. He sits glued to a desk chair at the head of a stout wooden table. He’s surrounded by file cabinets, which appear to be unused, in a space that could otherwise be mistaken as a conference room for rent if it weren’t for game tape rolling on a screen in the center of the room. To his right, there are three white boards full of proprietary information concerning the Wake Forest game.

“At this time of year, you spend so much time in that little conference room, those walls start creeping in on you, man,” Brey tells me. “I usually have about an hour in there, [then] I gotta get out.”

But that room serves as central command for the program’s brain trust, including a five-man staff that has known its chief executive more than a combined 80 years. Each of them played for Brey.

The group is negotiating an unusual and inconvenient set of circumstances. Their previous game, the loss to North Carolina, was scheduled for Saturday but moved back a day, to Super Bowl Sunday, because a water main broke near the Tar Heels’ campus in Chapel Hill, leaving the Irish only one full day to prepare for its Tuesday affair with the Demon Deacons. The ACC schedules two days, at minimum, between games, and that extra day is vital for Brey, who plays his starters heavy minutes.

Brey runs his hands through his hair, thinking aloud: “We can’t push them too hard today, can we?” He’s certain of it, but seeks affirmation from a staff that’s clearly paid, in part, to dissent at the appropriate time. But they shake their heads in unison. The team arrived in South Bend sometime after the first quarter of the Super Bowl. Brey had pizza and wings ready for them in the team room, and he told the training staff to immediately start the ice baths.

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